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From Isolation to Intervention: Canadian Army Formation Patches 1946 -1968

November 26, 2022

Bill Alexander

In the spring of 1946, the last contingents of Canadian soldiers returned from overseas. The federal government, concentrating on demobilization and re-integration of discharged military personnel, was intent on collecting the peace dividend. Military preparedness and planning were put on the back burner, but questions as to the composition and role of the post-war army had to be addressed. The focus was on home defence, and Interim Force, a plan implemented in 1946, proposed a small permanent force and a reserve army of six divisions and several independent armoured brigades, with a heavy emphasis on air defence against the perceived Soviet threat. What formation patches and shoulder titles would be worn by this re-organized army? The insignia needed to be decided.

During the war, the permanent force regiments and active service battalions of militia regiments had served in one of the divisions or independent armoured brigades at home or overseas. It was determined that their cloth shoulder titles, worn with such pride during the war, should not be discarded. Canadian Army Order 125 of May, 1946, authorized existing regimental and corps embroidered shoulder titles for continued wear. Formation patches, on the other hand posed a more difficult problem. The permanent force regiments had not all served in the same formations, and neither had the neighbouring reserve regiments in the newly organized regional commands. And, the new reserve brigades included units that had not been mobilized or were new to the order of battle. The RCA wartime order of battle had been dissolved at the end of the war, and a new regimental system adopted within Canada. Some infantry and cavalry regiments had been re-tasked and converted to artillery, adopting RCA insignia. The higher formations no longer existed, making their signs meaningless. The wartime scheme of formation patches would not work in Canada. Allowing units to continue wearing their wartime formation signs would be confusing and defeat their purpose.

The Master General of the Ordnance included a proposal for a new scheme of formation patches in his November 1946 circular requesting input for the post war dress regulations:

For the time being it is proposed that the wartime formation patches be worn at the discretion of Officers Commanding the units. The question of wearing of formation patches by the post-war army is being examined and the following formation patches are suggested:

Army Headquarters
Infantry Brigade (Active Force)
Command Headquarters
District Headquarters
Reserve Force Divisional Formation Patches
Reserve Force Independent Bde Patches [1]

The proposal received significant support, but the reality of the situation precluded this scheme. With shrinking budgets, limited training and limited movement outside of local areas, it was determined that formation patches were unnecessary. Effective 1 January, 1947, the wearing of the existing formation signs was prohibited. A decision on the proposed system was deferred. Finally, at the Chief of the General Staff’s conference on 10 March 1948, it was decided no new formation patches would be adopted and the matter was dropped. For the next two years, as the army adjusted to peace time soldiering, there was no need for formation patches. Despite ominous noises from abroad, the Canadian government concentrated on adjusting to a peacetime economy and on re-integrating ex-service personnel into society. Military matters were of low priority.[2]

World events once again shattered Canada’s splendid isolation. On 25 June, 1950, North Korean troops invaded South Korea. Within days, the United Nations condemned the aggression and mandated an international force to repel the aggressor. Canada committed to the intervention force, and dispatched a battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry to join with British and Australian regiments of the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade in February 1951. In July, the full 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade arrived in the Korean peninsula, and with other Commonwealth contributors, formed the 1st Commonwealth Division. Operating with other UN contingents in the field, the need for both brigade and division identification was required. The Canadian brigade adopted two patches, one for each sleeve. On the left, a pale blue shield, the United Nations colour, 2 1/2 inches by 3 inches, with the Tudor crown over “COMMONWEALTH”, in gold and red embroidery, identified the 1st Commonwealth Division. On the right sleeve, a scarlet shield, 2 1/8th by 3 3/8th inches, with “CANADA” in gold lettering, over two silver-white olive leaf sprays, symbolic of the United Nations, encircling a yellow maple leaf, identified the brigade as Canadian. Minor variations of the Division and Brigade patches were acquired. Bullion wire examples of both formation signs were acquired as Canadian personnel visited Japan on repatriation leave, en route home. During subsequent rotations, each new Canadian contingent continued to wear both formation signs, with one significant change. With the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the St. Edwards crown replaced the Tudor crown on the 1st Commonwealth Division formation sign.[3] These signs continued in wear until the last elements of the 25th Canadian Brigade came home in 1955.                                               

An RCAMC RSM from the RCAMC wears the Commonwealth Division patch on an armlet in Korea, and two RCR privates wear bullion wire patches on the tropical worsted uniform, at a welcome home from Korea dinner.

An RCAMC RSM from the RCAMC wears the Commonwealth Division patch on an armlet in Korea.
Two RCR privates wear bullion wire patches on the tropical worsted uniform, at a welcome home from Korea dinner.

Variations of the 25 Canadian Brigade patch. Note the veined and veinless versions. Both patterns were apparently worn in Korea.
A rare printed example of the 25 Bde patch. Provenance unknown.

Other Canadian units and personnel served in Korea and Japan in the Line of Communications and base depots supporting the division. They were identified by the British and Commonwealth Forces patch. Consisting of a crown, either the Tudor or St. Edward’s depending on the date, over a segmented ribbon reading “BRITISH” “COMMONWEALTH” “FORCES”, it was embroidered on a medium blue field. These were worn until the Canadian Far East units returned home in 1954.

Bullion wire and silk embroidered examples of the British Commonwealth Forces patches. Note the Tudor and St Edwards crowns. 

Half-way around the world, the Soviet Union was posturing aggressively. The Iron Curtain had descended across the Europe, with the threat of war against the west. In response, the nations of western Europe, the United States and Canada formed a military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in 1949. In addition to naval and air force contingents, it was decided Canada would provide an infantry formation to be stationed in Europe.  Designated 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade, it was a recruited in a unique manner. Fifteen reserve regiments were each to raise a company for active service in one of the three battalions in the NATO brigade. The battalions were identified as Highland, Light Infantry, and Infantry of the Line, with the personnel for each battalion recruited from the same type of reserve regiment. It was decided that the 27th would wear a French-gray shield shaped formation sign, the same shape and size as the 25th Brigade. As with the 25th patch, Canada, arced up, would be embroidered in gold thread across the top of the patch. Each battalion of the brigade would be identified with a unique device embroidered on the shield. The Line battalion patch had an up-wards pointed bayonet, the Light Infantry battalion, a light infantry horn, and the Highland battalion, a Scotch thistle. Headquarters’ personnel would wear the patch without any device. [4]

Proposed designs for the 27th Canadian Brigade patches. Authorized badges were made on French grey material. The example with the maple leaf was proposed for non-brigaded elements. Instead, a plain patch with CANADA was worn in its place.

The unique recruiting scheme for the 27th Bde did not meet expectations. The battalions failed to gel and it became apparent some reserve regiments could not enlist the number of soldiers required on an ongoing basis. Another system was needed, which led to another re-organization. The Canadian Guards were formed and two militia regiments, the Black Watch and the Queen’s Own Rifles were activated for the regular force. The highland, light infantry, and line infantry battalions of the 27th Bde were re-designated respectively. In the fall of 1953, the 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group became the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade. The brigade’s order of battle would consist of rotations of the six regular force infantry regiments, the Royal Canadian Regiment, P.P.C.L., Royal 22é Régiment, Queen’s Own Rifles, Black Watch, and Canadian Guards. The contingent was organized on a three-brigade basis, with 1st Brigade in Europe, and the 2nd and 3rd Brigades in Canada. With the 27th patches now obsolete, the question of what formation sign should be worn was addressed.  It was decided the new brigade would wear an old formation sign, the traditional red patch of the 1st Canadian Division. All the units on the order of battle were entitled to wear the classic 3 x 2-inch scarlet patch of the 1st Canadian Division, which was was worn overseas from 1954 until the formation was reduced to nil strength in 1958. Some Canadian units continued to wear the patch after that date, in Canada and in Europe.[5]

Examples of 1 Canadian Division melton formation patches circa 1950s through early 1960s. The patches are indistinguishable from the earlier issues of melton patches for the 1st Canadian Division.
Personnel of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada laying cables. Note the black coveralls, which were a standard garment for training in the 1950s and 1960s. The OD 7 armlets carry the QOR title, the 1 Cdn Div patch and rifles’ regiment rank chevrons. The armlets are fastened to the coveralls at the top by safety pins.

Not all Canadian units in Europe were on the order of battle of 1st CIBG. Line of communication, depot and support units were required to support the 1st Canadian Brigade Group and RCAF contingents. Designated Canadian Base Units Europe (CBUE), it was agreed that they too should have some sort of formation sign. Another obsolete formation sign was revived, the First Canadian Army diamond, with a blue central stripe on red diamond. These signs were made in slightly larger dimensions than the Second World War pattern, measuring 3 ¼ x 2 5/8th inches.  It was at the discretion of the Officer Commanding CBUE to authorize the units under his command permission to wear the formation sign.    

A summer dress armlet with the larger CBUE formation patch compared with the standard size First Canadian Army patch.

One more formation sign was approved for service in Europe. A significant number of Canadians were attached to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (S.H.A.P.E.), or its subordinate headquarters. A shield shaped embroidered patch identified SHAPE personnel, and it was suggested these be authorized for Canadians. It was noted that the SHAPE insignia was worn in accordance with instructions issued by that Headquarters.[6] The patch was authorized in late 1953, at the same time as the 1st Canadian Division and Canadian Base Units Europe insignia were approved. Worn on the sleeve two inches below the seam, the patches were to be purchased at individual expense. The S.H.A.P.E. patch was re-considered in 1958. It was noted that while the sleeve patch was appropriate for army personnel, it was not appropriate on the RCAF uniform. It was decided at that time that the metal S.H.A.P.E. pocket badge would be worn by all personnel. [7]

 International events continued to shape Canadian foreign and military policy. In 1956, the Suez Crisis boiled over into a regional war. After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, Great Britain, France, and Israel attempted to regain control over the important transportation link through military intervention. An international crisis ensued. Under the auspices of the United Nations, led by an initiative from the Canadian External Affairs Minister, Lester B. Pearson, a peace keeping force was proposed to separate the warring parties and facilitate withdrawal of the combatants. The military contingents provided by several nations, including Canada, would need to be identified as peace keepers of the United Nations Emergency Force. Distinctive United Nations’ headdress and insignia was proposed for the deployment. United Nations cap badges would be worn on pale blue headdress and United Nations patches on the uniform sleeves.

The formation sign adopted for wear by personnel committed to the United Nations deployment consisted of circular patch, 2 ½ to 2 ¾ inches diameter, in United Nations’ pale blue, embroidered with a representation of the globe, showing the continents from a north polar projection. This is imposed on longitude and latitude lines which form the globe and is flanked by branches of olive leaves either side, symbolic of peace, with “UNITED NATIONS” embroidered in English above the globe, in white thread. The entire design was enclosed by a white embroidered border. Each contributing nation was responsible for procurement of their contingent’s insignia, but all were to be of the same design. The first Canadian issue was embroidered on melton material with a cut edge.  Being deployed to a tropical climate, the UN patches were typically sewn on OD 7 armlets or purpose made tropical armlets, to be worn on the right sleeve. On the left side, the Canadian contingent wore the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade patch, which had been repurposed as the “Canadian Army Overseas Flash” (sic). These badges were worn by all Canadian rotations to the UNEF. 

A major and sergeant of the 8th Canadian Hussars deployed to the UNEF circa 1964 wear the blue UN cap with the second pattern cap badge and the repurposed 25 Bde patch.

Four years later, the United Nations was asked to intervene in the Congo. Again, a Canadian contingent was deployed to Opération des Nations Unies au Congo, abbreviated to ONUC, and would wear the blue patch, but a significant change was made to the embroidered designation. The working language for the deployment was French. The patch was altered to read ONU (Organization des Nations Unies). For this deployment the patch was embroidered in white on pale blue cotton drill material, with either an embroidered border or a merrowed edge. The Canadian contingent wore this badge in combination with the re-purposed 25th Brigade badge, now identified as the Canadian nationality badge. The UN patch was to be worn on an armlet on the left sleeve, and the nationality insignia on an armlet on the right. In addition, the regimental or corps titles were to be sewn on above the patches and non-commissioned officers’ rank were to be sewn below the formation patches. The ONU patch intended for the Congo deployment was occasionally issued for subsequent UN deployments.

DND information bulletin illustrating the UN deployment insignia.
Lieutenant-General E.L.M. Burns, first commander of the UNEF speaking with members of the Canadian contingent. Note the repurposed 25th Cdn Bde patch on the RCEME armlet and the first pattern UNEF cap badge.
Canadian Provost Corps personnel on patrol in the Congo. Note the armlets with the ONU pattern patch.

Canadian UN deployments continued to adopt new versions of the United Nations patch. The next large and lengthy deployment began in 1964, when Canada deployed peacekeeping forces to Cyprus. Separating the Greek and Turkish Cypriots led to the deployment of many rotations of Canadian contingents, totalling nearly 25,000 Canadian personnel, before the mission terminated in 1993. Canadians continued to wear the repurposed 25 CIB patch on the right sleeve or armlet as the Canadian nationality identification, which was eventually made of drill material with a heavy merrowed edge. On the left sleeve, a third version of the United Nations patch was worn. Like the first design, with an English designation, “UNITED NATIONS”, the globe and designation were embroidered in white on a pale blue drill material with a heavy merrowed edge. This pattern of the UN patch became the standard for many deployments. Bi-lingual examples were later introduced, in English and French, and became the standard pattern. For some later deployments, bilingual English and Spanish patches were made.[8]

UN patches were made by many makers in different locations and countries. Canadian deployments frequently accessed supplies of the patches in theatre or from regional sources. Note the printed pattern.
The English-French bilingual version of the UN patch.
The English-Spanish bilingual UN patch.
The final version of the Canadian nationality patch was made on a drill material with a heavy embroidered border.
DND issued an appendix to the Canadian Army Orders identifying and describing the insignia in the late 1950s.

Changes to the organization of the Canadian armed forces were initiated in the early 1960s, with the goal being the unification of the three services. As an initial step, the land forces plus some tactical RCAF units were organized under a new structure called Force Mobile Command on 1 April 1966. It had been decided this new command would be identified by a unique formation sign. The badge was a white diamond shape, stylized as a compass arrow, set on North/South point, with a red embroidered edge. Four arrows in two tone blue represented the compass points. Superimposed in the middle is a red maple leaf with 11 points. (Contrary to popular interpretations, there is no significance to the number of points.) The patch symbolized Force Mobile Command being able to quickly respond on any threat, north, east, south, or west. The design was approved 27 September 1965, and was multi purpose, being used for vehicle markings as well as uniform insignia.[9]

Proposed Mobile Command patches. The one on the left is slightly larger. As noted, example B was approved.
Despite the approval of the 2 inch Mobile Command patch (right), other sizes were made.
The OD 7 armlets were worn on summer dress and coverall orders of dress. These examples show the Mobile Command patches. Note the transitionary master corporal rank on the Fort Garry Horse armlet, using the combat dress major’s rank badge. (QOR, GGFG, and Fort Garry armlet images courtesy F. Deitz.)

Best intentions did not get the patch into wear by April. Two significant questions arose. First, the overall size of the badge was questioned. The initial design had been 2 inches in height and width dimensions, but it was suggested that it should be 2 ¼ inches. Second, there was a question about the border, with it being suggested a margin of white material be left outside the embroidered red border. Neither change was accepted, and, finally, in September 1966, an order for 125,643 pairs was tendered, with the new adoption date of 19 October 1966. The Force Mobile Command patch was intended for domestic service, and was not worn for foreign deployments. The value of such a distinguishing patch must be questioned. With almost all army (regular force and reserve) and some RCAF personnel wearing the sign, it did not serve any real distinguishing purpose for formations. The patch was considered a moral booster, and it has been suggested it was meant to lessen the sting of unification. It was the last formation sign adopted by the Canadian Forces before unification.[10]

The Mobile Command patch in wear on senior Lord Strathcona Horse officers and a general officer, circa 1968. 
Mobile Command included certain RCAF squadrons. Two RCAF officers wear the Mobcom patch on their uniforms.

While not specifically a formation sign, the need for a new national identifier became a focus for National Defence HQ. The repurposed 25 Brigade patch was in use for UN deployments, but it was not worn by Canada’s NATO brigade. In 1964, a request was forwarded to NDHQ for an embroidered Canadian flag patch, the Red Ensign, to be worn on the sleeve of the Canadian contingent for the Allied Mobile Force in NATO. At the time, the question of a new Canadian flag was being hotly debated in Parliament, and the request was held in abeyance. Within a year, the Canadian government adopted the new three-panel flag, in scarlet, white and scarlet, with an eleven-point scarlet maple leaf imposed on the center panel.[11] With this decided, a new flag patch design was proposed and approved by Directorate of Ceremonial, but shelved when Operational Command was super-ceded by Force Mobile Command. Even so, 1 Bn Royal Highland Regiment of Canada, tasked for the AM Force, had acquired the new flag patch for their uniforms, made at their expense. No further flag acquisitions were reported as the Force Mobile Command patch became standard issue in Canada.

In November 1965, the Canadian contingent of the International Control Commission asked and received permission to wear an embroidered version of the new flag. These were locally procured in Saigon. And, 4 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group in Germany was granted permission to wear a Canada flag for contingents participating in international competitions. Citing these initiatives, the Director of Ceremonial prosed that a patch using the design of the new flag be adopted for wear on the uniform. His request was forwarded for consideration by the Chief of the Defence. With looming unification of the Canadian Armed Forces, it appears no action was immediately taken. It would be re-considered after unification. [12]

An image from the Ottawa Citizen newspaper shows the new large Canadian patch in wear, July 1966.
The initial large size and authorized standard size Canadian flag patches which would become the national identifier patch starting in the 1960s.

The Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force were unified in 1968. As part of the process, the uniforms of the three services were replaced with one common style, the Canadian Forces green garments. To facilitate unification, minimal insignia was to be worn on the uniforms, temporarily ending the use of formation signs, except for UN deployments.  For the next decade, Canadian personnel would not wear formation signs.

Between 1946 and 1968, only a handful of new formation signs were adopted by the Canadian army. Serving the important purposes of identification, fostering esprit de corps, and addressing political initiatives, these patches were taken into wear when circumstances demanded. Continuing the practice instituted during the First World War, formation patches, while limited in use, fulfilled these important functions. It was deemed important that contingents for overseas deployments were easily identified as Canadian, and insignia to meet this requirement were designed and authorized. With unification, a trend of minimal uniform insignia became the norm. The post war era of insignia came to an ignominious end, having been deemed unwanted and irrelevant in the process of unifying the services.

[1] Master General of the Ordnance Branch, Army Headquarters, Dress and Clothing for the Canadian Army: Policies Proposals and Development, Ottawa, November 1946.

[2] Brief Prepared by DSD, Distinguishing Patches AHQ, Commands and MSF, HQ 1730-9 TD 61098 (SD 1B) 18 April 1956. RG 24 Vol. 14, File 5250:22.

[3] Adjutant-General Instruction 484/1951, Distinguishing Patches 25 Cdn Inf Bde Gp, 28 June 1951.  The size of the 1st Commonwealth Division and 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade patches vary slightly. It was noted the 25th Bde patch was to be sewn on the sleeve with the bottom of the patch 4 ¾ inches from the shoulder seam. Report 64/10 Pg 2-3.

[4] The infantry of the line battalion included the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, Les Fusiliers de Montréal, the Carleton and York Regiment, the Algonquin Regiment, and the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. Recruits from each of these regiments continued to wear their approved titles in 27 Bde. The rifle battalion included the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, Victoria Rifles of Canada, Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, Royal Winnipeg Rifles, and Regina Rifles, each wearing their respective shoulder titles. The Highland battalion composed of the Black Watch of Canada, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, 48th Highlanders of Canada, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and the Canadian Scottish Regiment wore their respective titles.

[5] The 1st Canadian Division 1954-1958 consisted of three brigades. 1st Canadian Infantry Bde was in Europe, 2nd Canadian Infantry Bde in Edmonton, and 3rd Canadian Infantry Bde in Valcartier. The 1st Canadian Division patch became redundant when the formation was reduced to nil-strength in 1958, but some units on the order of battle continued to wear the sign in Europe, and it continued in wear in Canada until 1966.

[6] Brief Prepared by DSD, Distinguishing Patches AHQ, Commands and MSF, HQ 1730-9 TD 61098 (SD 1B) 18 April 1956. RG 24 Vol. 14, File 5250:22.

[7] Formation Distinguishing Patches APCC /P (56) 53 RG 24 Vol. 14, File 5250:22 and, Byford A.J. W/C Assistant Canadian National Military Representative SHAPE. Letter to Chairman, Chiefs of Staff, National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa Canada. 20 March 1958 and Dyer K. L. Rear Admiral, Chair, Personnel Members Committee, Memorandum to Chairman Chiefs of Defence Staff, NATO Distinguishing Badge 24 April 1958.  During another round of correspondence in 1958, it was indicated only the SHAPE pocket badge was worn.

[8] Memoranda, Canadian United Nations Badge, B.L. Button, Lt.-Col. DC 2-7088, 26 April 1965. 6001-Clothing/C1 TD 5099 (DC). RG 24 ACC 1997-98 599 Box 16 File 5250 28 Pt 14.

[9] Allard J.V. Lt. Gen. Commander, Mobile Command Headquarters, Letter to the Chief of the Defence Staff, Distinguishing Formation Patch – Mobile Command, 18 November 1965. Dress Instructions: Badges and Buttons Command Badges, File 5250-28-13. Record Group 24, Box 19.

[10] Various documents. Dress Instructions Badges and Buttons Command Badges, File 5250-28-13. Record Group 24, Box 19.

[11] The initial design had included a 13-tip maple leaf, but for design purposes it was changed to eleven. There is no symbolic significance to the number of leaf tips.

[12] Bates W.F. Lt.-Col. Director of Ceremonial, Memoranda August 23, 1966. RG 24 Box 16 File 5250 28 Pt 14.

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