THE ORIGINS OF THE BROWN BERET
There has been much speculation as to the origin of the brown beret first worn by the 11th Hussars (PAO) following their conversion from a horsed regiment to one mounted in armoured cars. The conversion was announced to the 11th Hussars by General Pitman on March 10th 1928 and the conversion began immediately, (although the brown beret came into use much later than this date).
The reason why a change of headgear was needed is less confusing. The peaked cap that was worn at the time was entirely unsuitable for use within the close confines of an armoured vehicle and, following the example of the Royal Tank Corps (RTC) the beret was deemed the most suitable form of headwear. The black beret that was worn by the RTC at the time was declared off limits by none other than King George V himself, who had bestowed this colour personally to the RTC when they were officially re-titled “Royal” in October 1923. I have used the Regimental Journals of the 11th Hussars (PAO) to compile this paper reasoning that as the Brown Beret was theirs from the start, they would know how, when and why this beret came into existence:
The first mention of a change in millinery for the regiment appears on page 53 of the 11th Hussars October 1928 regimental journal which states:
“The question of dress is being carefully thought out; the present headdress is obviously unsuitable, the most popular suggestion so far is a crimson beret which will probably be adopted if the higher authorities approve of it. Three of these berets were worn on recent manoeuvres by three S.S.Ms. and were much admired.”
The following year it appears that the notion of the crimson beret was officially approved by the army dress authority and the April journal of that year stated that:
“Note – Clothing depot letter reads that War Office authority has been applied for, for the final sanction of the Crimson Beret.”
“The Crimson Beret is still a thing of the future, but it has been approved and may arrive any day.”
The claim that the Crimson Beret had been officially sanctioned may have been a little premature as later in 1929 the question of headdress remained unsettled. The War Office had given the regiment a new form of cap to trial in the vehicles and the 11th Hussars themselves had also designed a beret of their own which they were also using at the time (perhaps this is where the old QM’s wives tale has its origin). By their own admission it remained to be seen which sort of hat they would eventually get. Interestingly the 11th were also doing their best to keep hold of their ordinary peaked cap for “walking-out” and ceremonial purposes in order, as they said:
“….to show that, though mounted in armoured cars, we are still cavalrymen.”
Nothing more is heard of in the journals regarding headdress until April 1932 when, tucked away on page 18 comes the announcement:
“DRESS. The War Office have sanctioned the issue for wear in the armoured cars a brown beret with a crimson band.”
Unhelpfully there is no reason given at this time as to why the colour brown was chosen, although the crimson band needs no explanation. The new headdress was known in army parlance as “Caps 11th Hussar”. All the pictures in the journals covering the period of 1929 – 1932 show the soldiers wearing initially their peaked caps, changing to the newly issued side caps in 1931 not a beret in sight. The first picture of a brown beret appears on page 140 of the June 1935 Journal which shows a group of officers and soldiers awaiting a police escort prior to entering Cairo. All of the group are wearing the normal service caps with the exception of Tpr Dobson who is sporting a brown beret.
It wasn’t until 1966 that attached arms began to wear the brown beret and then only briefly. A passage from the LAD notes in the 1967 journal reads:
“One event this year must be recorded, even if only (alas!) for posterity. On the first day of range firing in July the E.M.E. appeared in a Brown Beret with a R.E.M.E. badge. Vast mutterings were heard but it was surprising how many people liked the idea. An official application for the entire L.A.D. to adopt this form of dress was put to the R.E.M.E. Corps Dress Committee via D.R.A.C. and D.E.M.E but most unfortunately it was very politely rejected.”
The final journal of the 11th Hussars (PAO) gives us the reason why brown was chosen as the colour and, as I said at the beginning, given that the beret was theirs to start with, we should extend them the courtesy of believing their version. The 1968 Journal states:
“After much thought and many designs, one of which was very much like the present one but with a gold tassel, a beret was produced that was sensible and extremely comfortable to wear; it had the added advantage of being waterproof, a quality not shared by its latter day successor.
This beret was brown, in recognition of the brown busby worn by the Officers of the Regiment in mounted dress, with a crimson band to denote the crimson overalls formerly worn by everyone.”
It should be noted that at its introduction the Beret was only worn by armoured car crews with the remainder of the regiment keeping the S.D. cap whether in or out of coveralls. The beret was only semi-official even then, even though it was issued from Ordnance sources. The cap-badge was never worn in the beret because as soon as you left the vehicle park you replaced your beret with your S.D. cap which had the 11th Hussars cap-badge in it.
It was only later, when the regiments exploits in the western desert during World War two had brought it to the nations attention that an authority was issued in honour of the 11th Hussars service in this theatre stating, that:
“……the beret was to be the official headgear of the regiment and, in view of the fact that the beret was unique it would be worn without a cap-badge.”
Not a Quartermasters wife in sight……………………………………………………………………….