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The Sabretache in the Canadian Cavalry

September 25, 2014

by Clive M. Law

Note the highly detailed and colourful sabretache worn by this officer of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. Anne S. K. Brown Library, Brown University, courtesy Rene Chartrand.

Note the highly detailed and colourful sabretache worn by this officer of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. Anne S. K. Brown Library, Brown University, courtesy Rene Chartrand.

The sabretache is derived from a traditional Hungarian horseman’s flat leather bag called a tarsoly and was adopted by nearly all European armies.

Cavalry School Corps, later the Royal Canadian Dragoons. Courtesy Rene Chartrand

Cavalry School Corps, later the Royal Canadian Dragoons. Note the protective sheath. Courtesy Rene Chartrand

Helmet, cross-belt pouch and sabretache to Montreal's Royal Guides, formerly in the Baraukus collection. Courtesy Bonham's auction house

Helmet, cross-belt pouch and sabretache to Montreal’s Royal Guides, formerly in the Baraukus collection. Courtesy Bonham’s auction house

Variants on a theme - Queen's Own Canadian Hussars. The lack of documentation makes it difficult to date variants. Courtesy Scott Duncan

Variants on a theme – Queen’s Own Canadian Hussars. The lack of documentation makes it difficult to date variants. Courtesy Scott Duncan

In the early 18th century, hussar (light) cavalry became popular amongst the European powers, and the tarsoly was often a part of the accoutrements. By the 19th century, other types of cavalry, such as lancers, also wore them. The German name sabretache was adopted, tache meaning “pocket”. It fulfilled the function of a pocket, which was absent from the tight fitting uniform of the hussar. Part of the wartime function of the light cavalry was to deliver orders and dispatches and the sabertache was well suited to hold these. In its earliest form the sabretache’s large front flap was usually heavily embroidered with a royal cypher or regimental crest, and could be used as a firm surface for writing. In later years this style was set aside for full dress and a more utilitarian, “undress” sabretache was adopted for field use.

Variants to the Governor General's Body Guards. Note the different lace styles. The Maple Leaf lace on the example on the right suggests 1870-1890. Courtesy Scott Duncan

Variants to the Governor General’s Body Guards. Note the different lace styles. The Maple Leaf lace on the example on the right suggests 1870-1890. Courtesy Scott Duncan

An officer of the Governor General's Body Guards, Toronto. Note the attention to regulation in the length of the slings. Courtesy Scott Duncan

An officer of the Governor General’s Body Guards, Toronto. Note the attention to regulation in the length of the slings. Courtesy Scott Duncan

In the British Army, sabretaches were first adopted at the end of the 18th century by light dragoon regiments, four of which acquired “hussar” status in 1805. The Canadian cavalry adopted both Hussar and dragoon traditions and the hussar regiments naturally took to wearing the sabretache. Regulations for the Militia, published in 1887 describe its method of wear as:

“When mounted, the top of the sabretache is to be horizontal and in line with the bend of the knee. The same length of slings to be maintained when dismounted.”

'Undress' version of the sabretache and cross-belt pouch to the Royal Canadian Dragoons, ca.1900. Courtesy Bonham's auction house

‘Undress’ version of the sabretache and cross-belt pouch to the Royal Canadian Dragoons, ca.1900. Courtesy Bonham’s auction house

Another 'undress' pattern to an unidentified regiment.

Another ‘undress’ pattern to an unidentified regiment.

The wear of this rather arcane item was abolished in the British Army in November 1901, and the Canadian Militia followed soon after. The name of this accoutrement lives on as the title of official newsletter of the Association of the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise’s) Inc.

As a para-military force patterned on the Cavalry, the North-West Mounted Police also adopted the sabretache, shown here in 1894. MilArt photo archives

As a para-military force patterned on the Cavalry, the North-West Mounted Police also adopted the sabretache, shown here in 1894. MilArt photo archives

Obverse and reverse views of a NWMP sabretache, ca.1895. Courtesy Marway Militaria

Obverse and reverse views of a NWMP sabretache, ca.1895. Courtesy Marway Militaria

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From → Equipment, Uniforms

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