The Black Beret
& The Black Overalls; The Ash Plant; Tank Badge; Regimental Colours
Updated: 18 Jan 04


 

After each war the British Army has made a habit of adopting some headdress belonging to its allies or enemy.     The bearskin of the Guards came from Napoleon's Imperial Guard; The Lancer's Cap was adopted in 1815, and came from the Poles.   It had previously been adopted by the French (in 1811) and also by some German Kingdoms at various times between 1809 and 1813: the top heavy shako adopted for the Infantry after the Napoleonic Wars was then in vogue among Britain's Continental Allies; the new style shako adopted in 1855 was similar to that of our French allies in the Crimean War; the flat type shako adopted in 1860 was similar to the one worn by the soldiers in the American Civil War; the spiked helmet adopted in the 1870's (persisted for the next two (2) generations) was copied from the German victors of the 1870 War.   The Beret was no exception. 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.  In may 1918 General Elles and Colonel Fuller, when dining together at Bermicourt, discussed the future of the Tank Corps and its uniform.   The 70th Chasseurs Alpines were billeted in the area at this time and General Elles tried on one of their Beret.   Of the various proposals put forward he strongly favoured the Black Beret.   He was influenced by the presence of the Chasseurs Alpines, many of whom were training at British Tank Schools, and who had a particularly close liaison with the Tank Corp Units.

Black was selected because it was least likely to show oil stains.   When bending over the engines inside a Tank (and they needed a great deal of tending) it was almost impossible to avoid getting oily.   No change to the uniform was possible during the war.   Later when advocating that the Black Beret should be accepted officially, General Elles, in addition to explaining its advantages inside a Tank, added that, both in war and on manoeuvres, it was very convenient to sleep in.   After a prolonged argument with the War Office, the Black Beret was approved by HM the King on 5 March 1924. The Black Beret remained the exclusive distinctive headdress of the Royal Tank Corps until its practical value was recognised by others and its use was extended to the whole of the Royal Armoured Corps in 1940.   After WW11, on the introduction of the blue beret, the Royal Tank Regiment reclaimed their 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 Westminster Dragoons. The initial clothing issue to the 1st Tank Section in 1930 was the usual khaki jacket, trousers and Digger hat.   In July 1944 LTCOL T. E. Williams then GSOI Armoured Corps at AHQ proposed that Armoured Corps personnel be issued Black Berets instead of the khaki which had been worn since the Corps was first formed in 1941.   This was approved by CGS LTGEN J. Northcott on 3 August 1944.

 

Black Overalls. The wearing of black overalls is a custom reserved to the Regiment by Material Regulations for the Army, volume 3, Pamphlet No 4 (Code 13251). It stems from the Royal Review held at Aldershot in the presence of King George V on 13 July 1935 on which occasion black overalls were worn on parade by all ranks of the Royal Tanks Corps. The practice lapsed during World War II but was re-introduced in the 1950s.

 

Tank Badge. The ordinary Machine Gun Corps' cap badge was the first official badge of the Heavy Branch. It was not universally popular and many of its members retained the badges of their original Regiment or Corps. By 1917 the new Branch was seeking its own distinctive badge, but as this was a matter for which Royal approval was required and would take time, the War Office agreed that a worsted arm badge would be introduced until the cap badge was approved. The Army Order authorising the badge (79 of 6 February 1917) decreed that it should be worn on the right arm three inches below the point of the shoulder. It also states that 'It is to be worn by all ranks'. This would appear to dispel the popular myth, perpetuated by the Regimental History, that it was only awarded to trained tank crewmen. Certainly for many years all members of the RTC/RTR have worn it on service and battle dress. A silver embroidered version was worn on the other ranks pre-war blue patrols and the Band had a gold embroidered one for their full dress. In 1996 the RTR Council directed that the gold embroidered badge was to be worn on both Officers' and Warrants Officers' and Sergeants' Mess Dress. They do wear a silver embroidered version on No 1 Dress and No 3 Dress (tropical white equivalent of No 1 Dress) although a brass badge has been worn instead on No 3 Dress (Fourth in Malaya 1964). This brass badge was also worn by officers and men on khaki drill and olive green tropical dress. The arm badge is not worn on combat dress, it is however worn on parade black denims.

 

The Ash Plant. During World War I walking sticks were often carried by officers. Such sticks came to have a new and greater use with the introduction of tanks which often became 'bogged' on battlefields, particularly in Flanders. Officers of the Tank Corps used these sticks to probe the ground in front of their tanks testing for firmness as they went forward. Often the commanders led their tanks into action on foot. To commemorate this, officers of the Regiment carry Ash Plant Sticks instead of the short cane customary to other Arms.

 

The Colours. The Regimental Colours are Brown, Red and Green. When it was first formed, the Tank Corps had no distinctive colours. Nothing was done about it until just before the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 when General Elles, wanting some distinguishing mark for his tank, went into a shop to buy material for a flag. Although stocks were small, the General bought some lengths of silk-brown, red and green. The silk was sewn together and was flown from his tank 'Hilda' in which he led the Tank Corps into battle. The colours typified the struggle of the Corps - 'From mud, through blood to the green fields beyond'. This most apt interpretation of the colours was suggested by Colonel Fuller. The flag is flown with the green uppermost.

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