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Canadian Army Cloth Shoulder Titles of the Second World War: A Primer

August 25, 2013

by Bill Alexander and Raymond Gilbert © 2011

This article is intended as a primer for collecting Second World War (SWW) Canadian cloth shoulder insignia.  This paper will focus on cloth shoulder title insignia, with comments on formation insignia as relevant. The cloth shoulder title evolved during the war years, becoming a ubiquitous feature of the battledress uniform. Formation patches (Brigades, Corps, and Divisions) also underwent major changes during SWW as the army would institute then discontinue complex distinguishing signs with imposed corps or regimental abbreviations on the formation patch. Eventually a plain formation patch without any imposed lettering became standard issue. This was worn in combination with the regimental or corps shoulder title.

The overall goal of insignia policy for the Canadian Army was to produce descriptive insignia that were useful to enhance moral and indicate the soldiers’ affiliation, both for the military units and higher command. By the end of the war, Canadian army personnel could be quickly and easily identified by a glance at their sleeves. There, with pride, they wore their shoulder title and formation patch.

Four main types of shoulder titles were worn by the Canadian Army between 1939 and 1945:

  • Worsted and khaki drill embroidered slip-ons
  • Embroidered  melton wool titles
  • Printed cotton titles, also known as canvas titles
  • Felt titles

Description of the Types of Titles:

 Worsted and Khaki Drill Slip-ons:

Slip-ons were embroidered in black thread on either a worsted woven wool material or on a khaki drill material. Slip-ons were designed for easy installation and removal. The title was a trapezoid shape with a thin cotton backing with two straps sewn on the reverse designed to slide over the shoulder strap. The abbreviated unit name was embroidered on the slip-on. There were some variations of slip-ons patterns, either unofficially produced in Canada, or procured in Great Britain. Worsted Canadian authorized slip-ons were issued starting early in 1940. With the authorization of coloured shoulder titles in late 1940, the active army discontinued the wearing of slip-ons. No worsted slip-ons were officially acquired overseas. From 1942 until the end of the war slip-ons were the only authorized pattern of title for wear by the reserve army.

Canadian pattern worsted slip-on. Attachment tapes made of cotton. Raymond Gilbert.

Canadian pattern worsted slip-on. Attachment tapes made of cotton. Raymond Gilbert.

Khaki drill slip-on. North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Bill Alexander

Khaki drill slip-on. North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Bill Alexander

Previously attributed to British manufacture, this pattern of slip-on has now been identified as a non-authorized pattern made in Canada. Note the method of construction. The backing was a piece of cotton matching the trapezoid of the facing, but only stitched on the two sides. This made the pocket for the slip-on. Bill Alexander

Various patterns of slip-ons. From top left, authorized issue worsted slip-on. Top right, khaki drill authorized issue. Bottom left, British manufacture worsted slip-on. Note the construction details. Bottom right, non-authorized Canadian made worsted slip-on. Bill Alexander

Felt:

Felt is made of compressed fabric particles, rather than the woven threads of wool. When examined under magnification, there is no weave pattern but rather a jumble of threads. Manufacturing companies produced most felt insignia without backing. Some felt titles/patches were acquired early in the war, some Canadian made, and some British manufacture. Canadian felt titles were usually produced by spraying or painting the designation on the title. This process is sometimes referred to as “flocking” or “painted”. Felt was less durable in wear. These titles quickly faded and fell apart in use.

Late in the war a British made issue of felt titles for Canadian units appeared overseas. These were embroidered on felt and coated on the reverse with a sizing or glue compound, thus the name ‘starch-backs’ or ‘glue-backs. No documentation has been found authorizing the official acquisition of this pattern of title.

Canadian flocked felt title. Note mis-spelling. Bill Alexander

Canadian flocked felt title. Note mis-spelling. Bill Alexander

British made embroidered melton, starch back title, showing the characteristic stitching and glue or sized backing. Raymond Gilbert

British made embroidered melton, starch back title, showing the characteristic stitching and glue or sized backing. Raymond Gilbert

Embroidered Melton:

Melton is a tightly woven wool fabric with heavily brushed nap giving the fabric a smooth finish. This fabric had letters, numbers or designs embroidered in silk thread on the body of the title. One method of distinguishing a melton patch from a felt one is by examining the edges of the cloth with a magnifying glass. With melton, one will see threads of wool along the edge. In contrast, the felt edge is smooth and devoid of rows of threads. Wool was a controlled material during the war, which meant that the fabric for making shoulder titles and formation patches was restricted in quantity and difficult to obtain. Embroidery was to be done in silk thread, but some substitution with cotton thread appears to have been made.

Coloured embroidered insignia were initially authorized for wear by overseas units only, but in 1942, authorization to wear coloured embroidered titles was extended to active service units in Canada. By the end of the war, all active force units in Canada were wearing coloured embroidered melton titles. Some reserve units acquired and wore unauthorized coloured embroidered titles.

When the army switched to printed titles overseas, existing inventories of embroidered insignia were to be used up before printed were issued. Embroidered insignia was also allowed if the delivery of printed titles was delayed. Many units had both issues in use at the same time. Embroidered titles were authorized and some titles were acquired for units of the CAOF (Canadian Army Occupation Force) over the summer and fall of 1945.

A variety of embroidered and one printed title for the Essex Scottish. Printed title, top, starch back pattern top left column, and various other issues. The patterns at top right column and second right column are post war. The pattern on the black or dark blue backing has not been documented.  Bill Alexander

A variety of embroidered and one printed title for the Essex Scottish. Printed title, top, starch back pattern top left column, and various other issues. The patterns at top right column and second right column are post war. The pattern on the black or dark blue backing has not been documented. Bill Alexander

A variety of embroidered and one printed title for the Essex Scottish. Printed title, top, starch back pattern top left column, and various other issues. The patterns at top right column and second right column are post war. The pattern on the black or dark blue backing has not been documented.  Bill Alexander

Canvas or Printed Insignia:

Canvas titles were the product of a fabric screen printing technology. The design was made using a series of meshes through which pigments were forced to produce a finely detailed printed fabric. Printed on a cotton twill material or cotton satin material these patches were of a two piece construction. The printed obverse fabric was bonded to a cotton backing. The edges were sealed to minimise fraying. Many printed designs were direct copies from melton patterns submitted by regiments and corps. Others were new designs. Only one maker, Calico Printers Association, produced the printed titles and patches in the United Kingdom. Printed titles only exist for units on the order of battle for the overseas army. The Canadian Forestry Corps overseas insignia was a triangular patch. The Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), and the Canadian Intelligence Corps did not have printed titles. 1 Canadian Armoured Carrier Regiment (1 CACR) was not authorized regimental titles through the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps (RCOC) system.

Printed shoulder title for the Irish Regiment of Canada. Cut guide lines are clearly visible around the edge. Bill Alexander

Printed shoulder title for the Irish Regiment of Canada. Cut guide lines are clearly visible around the edge. Bill Alexander

Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps printed shoulder title. Raymond Gilbert

Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps printed shoulder title. Raymond Gilbert

Shows the approximate time during the Second World War when each type of shoulder title was introduced and used.

Microsoft Word - canadian shoulder title primer sww v 2012 _2_In late 1942, the Canadian Army (Overseas) authorized the switch from embroidered patches to printed cotton. From that date, the only officially authorized Canadian army overseas insignia was printed insignia. This policy remained in force until the end of the SWW. Units were required to use up their holdings of melton titles and patches before issuing printed insignia. After investigation, it was found that printed titles could not be produced in Canada. The only feasible method of production available was embroidered melton titles. Embroidered wool titles would be the only official issue to the army in Canada for the duration of the war.

Overview of the production of shoulder insignia

Cloth titles, because of the harsh wear and suboptimal washings, were required to have the following characteristics: durability, low production costs, resistance to colour fading and loss of shape. Excessive fraying of the edges was not acceptable.  Meeting all the criteria with only one of any of the above materials was an unattainable goal.

Approval to wear worsted slip-on titles was granted in late 1939, but no officially authorized slip-ons were procured until 1940. Immediately, it became apparent they would be obstructed by equipment and damaged by the rifle and field use. Identification of the unit was difficult. Alternatives were quickly sought. They were allocated to use by the reserve army in 1942.

Coloured embroidered titles were authorized for overseas use in late 1940, and authorized for active service units in Canada in early 1942. The first issues of coloured titles were embroidered on melton wool, but the price per item was very high and supply sporadic. A few titles and patches were acquired in felt, but they proved fragile in use. (Note: The P.P.C.L.I. had been granted the dress distinction of wearing embroidered shoulder titles at the end of the First World War. They continued to wear them at the outbreak of the SWW.  At least two other units had cloth titles before the SWW, the Canadian Grenadier Guards and the Governor General’s Foot Guards. And, the Canadian Provost Corps were authorized coloured embroidered titles in 1940, well before the general authorization.)

To adopt coloured shoulder titles, each regiment or corps submitted a proposed design, which embodied or symbolized the name and history of the unit, to National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) for approval. If overseas, designs were submitted to the Senior Officer Commanding Combatant Forces for approval.  Once approved, contracts were tendered, sample titles submitted, patterns sealed, titles manufactured, and then sent to ordnance depots for distribution to units, where they were issued. The scale of issue for each soldier was 6 shoulder insignia, 4 for battledress use and 2 for the greatcoat. In the case of corps shoulder title insignia, (as in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps, Royal Canadian Engineers, etc.), the same procedure was followed.

Many companies in both Canada and Britain produced embroidered wool insignia for the Canadian Army. Some of these companies had army contracts; others were a private purchase by a military unit, or by individual soldiers.  As wool was a controlled war material, and embroidery was a time consuming production method, the army looked for a more economic way to acquire the vast quantities of insignia that were needed. Alternatives were sought, and the product produced by Calico Printers was examined. Canadian Military Headquarters was satisfied that their printed canvas badges met the criteria for useful insignia.

In early 1944, the Canadian Army (Overseas) decided to simplify the system of formation insignia. All imposed formation patches would be switched to plain patches, eliminating the patches that had regimental or corps abbreviations on them. All units were required to adopt the printed shoulder title and plain formation patch.  (The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals did not adopt this change and at the end of the war they were still using imposed formation patches. Some Royal Canadian Artillery imposed formation patches also remained in use until the end of the war.)

Canadian made "imposed" formation patch for 3 Canadian Infantry Division, Canadian Dental Corps. Raymond Gilbert.

Canadian made “imposed” formation patch for 3 Canadian Infantry Division, Canadian Dental Corps. Raymond Gilbert.

Printed titles were not popular. Some service personnel felt that they didn’t stand up well to washings and faded in sunlight. Some Canadian soldiers trimmed the new canvas patches for their uniform. This removed the factory bonded edges, resulting in fraying. Whatever the issues, printed titles were much cheaper and quicker to make than the embroidered ones, even if they had to be replaced more frequently. They remained the official overseas insignia until the army left the United Kingdom.

In mid 1945, British made starch-backs felt titles for Canadian units appeared. The provenance of this pattern has not been conclusively established, but evidence indicates that the felt titles may exist for every unit on the RCOC overseas inventory. No official authorization has been found for this pattern.  (Note: The Canadian Forestry Corps, CWAC, and Canadian Intelligence Corps were not on the RCOC inventories of titles for overseas. 1 CACR did not have officially authorized insignia, and had acquired shoulder and cap badges through private purchase. Starch back patterns have not been found for any of these units.)

Two other factors impacted the issue of shoulder titles. Many units had their designations changed over the course of the war. The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa started the war with the designation M.G. (Machine Gun), lost the designation mid-war and then regained the same designation later in the war. Appropriate titles were authorized and made to reflect these designation changes. Other units that experienced designation changes during the war also obtained new issues of titles.

When shortages made official issues impossible, or when personnel wanted to “dandy” up their battledress, soldiers being soldiers, they obtained tailor made or private purchase insignia. These patterns are difficult to document, and the provenance must be established on a case by case basis.

Characteristics of British and Canadian Titles

The following is a list of some of the major characteristics of shoulder titles. The list is by no means exhaustive nor exclusive.

  • Most  British made cloth insignia have the silk stitching on an oblique angle
  • Canadian embroidery machines made a horizontal stitch.
  • All canvas patches and titles are UK made and were made under the authority of the Canadian Military Headquarters in the UK.  There are two exceptions to this rule. The printed Kiska patch was made in North America. It is completely different from overseas printed insignia. The provenance of the Canadian Army Trades School printed patch has not been documented.
  • Most starch-back patches with oblique embroidery are European issue. (There are various explanations for the makers of this insignia, but to date there is no substantiated conclusion.)
  •  Thick letters on the insignia suggest SWW vintage.
  • Serif lettering is an indication of SWW vintage
British made embroidered title. Note oblique pattern to the stitching. Raymond Gilbert

British made embroidered title. Note oblique pattern to the stitching and back showing the embroidery pattern and the heavy cotton backing material. Collectors will find a wide variety of backings and embroidery patterns. Familiarizing oneself with the types of backings and embroidery is a useful method of establishing authenticity of titles. Raymond Gilbert

Backing of a Canadian made title. Note embroidery pattern and backing material. Raymond Gilbert

Backing of a Canadian made title. Note embroidery pattern and backing material. Raymond Gilbert

Backing material

  • Most embroidered shoulder titles have some sort of backing material. Black or tan/ khaki cotton backing material is the most common. Some have a paper, or padded backing. On occasions the soldier modified the backing.
  • Starch back titles have a layer or glue or sizing leaving an opaque white film on the back

Back of a British made title, showing the embroidery pattern and the heavy cotton backing material. Collectors will find a wide variety of backings and embroidery patterns. Familiarizing oneself with the types of backings and embroidery is a useful method of establishing authenticity of titles. Raymond Gilbert

Backing of a Canadian made title. Note embroidery pattern and backing material. Raymond Gilbert

Detecting Fakes

Unfortunately, Canadian cloth shoulder titles have been subject to extensive reproduction, and questionable titles are entering the market on a regular basis. With the increasing value of shoulder titles, a collector needs to be wary when acquiring titles.

  • A thread from the patch will burn with ash if it is a natural fibre. If the fibre melts it is synthetic and so the insignia was made with post-war synthetic materials.
  • The thread glows under ultraviolet light (‘black light”), which means that the thread is synthetic and post war. Caution should be used with this technique. Modern cleaning may have left traces that glow.
  • The title is made in a method not approved for the time period or for that unit

(Examples of the Film and Photo Unit are found in a fully embroidered pattern, which was not used for Canadian titles at the time the unit existed.)

  • The colour of the patch is not an accurate match to the colour of original insignia
  • The designation on the title is not appropriate to the time period.
  • The embroidery doesn’t go through to the backing material. There are notable exceptions to this guideline; for example, some Régiment de la Chaudière and Highland Light Infantry SWW titles do not have the embroidery thread through the backing.

Caring and storage of cloth insignia:

  • Sunlight/light, moisture and heat are the enemies of cloth. Cloths should be stored in cool, low humidity areas out of bright light. Avoid exposing cloth to direct light for long periods of time.
  • Extreme caution should be used when working with or handling cloth.
  • Dirt is an enemy of fabric. A gentle cold water rinse to remove soil may be necessary, with air drying.
  • Mounting: In the past many people have used various glues to paste the insignia into books or photo albums. Today most collectors leave the patch free or use masking tape or double-sided tape for mounting. Acid-free photograph hinges are an alternative. Plastic, if used to cover the cloth, should also be acid-free.
  • Mounting surfaces or card stock, if used for mounting, should be acid free materials.
  • Old glue: If desired this can be carefully broken off by gentle folding or rolling the cloth and the glue will crack into smaller pieces which can be picked off. This method will not likely remove all the glue. Certain types of glue may be removed using Zero and cold water.
  • Rubbing alcohol or chemicals can also remove glue. The cloth should be tested first in a small area before applying these more aggressive agents.
  • If the item in question is rare, it may be wise to approach a professional conservationist for preservation advice.

Summary:

Canadian Second World War insignia is a fascinating area of militaria collecting. Establishing the proper issue of insignia for the time period is a challenging and confusing exercise. The information provided in this overview is intended as an introductory guide to the cloth shoulder titles issued in the Canadian army. Research into the history and deployment of units can assist in documenting the evolution of the insignia for particular regiments and corps.

References:

The information in this article is derived from the documentation held in Library and Archives Canada, Record Group 24, Various Volumes and Files.

 

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