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Swagger Sticks of The Royal Canadian Regiment

December 9, 2014

by Richard J S Law

A selection of various swagger sticks held by The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum in London, On. The fourth one from the left appears to read “Tricentenary (sic) Celebration” and is believed to date to the 300th Anniversary of Quebec City in 1908. Photo courtesy Michael O’Leary.

A selection of various swagger sticks held by The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum in London, On. The fourth one from the left appears to read “Tricentenary (sic) Celebration” and is believed to date to the 300th Anniversary of Quebec City in 1908. Photo courtesy Michael O’Leary.

The significance of swagger sticks relates to that of staffs, batons, and riding crops denoting gentlemen of the upper class but also as a means to deliver immediate punishment to subordinates. Not limited solely to officers as a ‘stick’ was ordered to be carried by Other Ranks when ‘walking out’. Although the military stick was a common uniform accoutrement in an era when a gentleman’s canes was still in fashion, it has, since unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968, fallen out of use. This was an era which saw many Regimental and Army-wide traditions fall by the wayside.

An early RCR swagger stick, circa 1900. The VRI cypher shows meticulous detail of the intertwined letters, the belt surrounding read “Royal Regiment Canadian Infantry”. This stick was gifted by Capt Daniel Nolton, QM US Army in Alaska to Ernest A. Frier Sr in 1912.Photo courtesy Michael Reintjes.

An early RCR swagger stick, circa 1900. The VRI cypher shows meticulous detail of the intertwined letters, the belt surrounding read “Royal Regiment Canadian Infantry”. This stick was gifted by Capt Daniel Nolton, QM Corps, US Army, in Alaska to Ernest A. Frier Sr in 1912.Photo courtesy Michael Reintjes.

From 1883 to the late 1960’s, The RCR saw many different patterns of the swagger sticks being carried by soldiers and officers. The earliest reference found dates to the 1918, “A” Coy Dress Regulations that “All Officers will carry sticks at all times except on Battalion Parades.”However, pictorial evidence clearly demonstrates that swagger sticks were carried prior to this period.

Sergeant McPhee of The RCR, circa 1900. Photo courtesy MilArt photo archives.

Sergeant McPhee of The RCR, circa 1900. Photo courtesy MilArt photo archives.

A kit list written by Capt H.T. Cock during the First World War identifies and suggests many notes for new Officers arriving to the unit. Among them Briggs on St James Street is recommended for the purchase of swagger sticks. Although pictorial evidence demonstrates that swagger sticks were carried by all Officers, they were equally a common item among soldiers and NCOs during the First World War, or at least used as props for staged photographs.

Sergeant George Webb of The RCR displaying a swagger stick. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Leary.

Sergeant George Webb of The RCR displaying a swagger stick. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Leary.

Details pertaining to the construction of these sticks, and in particular, the appropriate Regimental insignia to be embossed appear to be lacking. Variations exist where the eight pointed star has “Royal Canadian Regt” surrounding the monarch’s initials with a scroll underneath bearing “Pro Patria”. One has to keep in mind the great lengths the Regiment pursued in order to maintain Queen Victoria’s cypher as their official cypher to be worn in perpetuity, and that this was not officially granted until 1919 by His Majesty King George V. Although some references indicate that Officers continued to wear the VRI badges throughout the First World War, soldier would have worn the cypher of the reigning monarch. As such, it is feasible to imagine that when commissioning the making of a stick, the jeweler took it upon themselves to have the initial of the reigning monarch included, however this is purely speculative.

An undated, post First World War photo of a group of officers of The RCR. Most officers are clearly shown with a swagger stick. Ca. 1928. Courtesy Michael O'Leary

An undated, post First World War photo of a group of officers of The RCR. Most officers are clearly shown with a swagger stick. Ca. 1928. Courtesy Michael O’Leary

A composite image showing the details of the embossed badge on the ferrule.

A composite image showing the details of the embossed badge on the ferrule.

Most examples with these incorrect Regimental crests tend to be 26 ½ – 27 ½ inches long and approximately ½ inch in diameter at the knob, tapering to 3/8 of an inch at the ferrule.Usually made of soft wood painted black or dark brown,these knobs have also been found of clear varnished bamboo sticks.

Two swagger sticks with improper Regimental Crests. On left a George V Pattern from 1910-1936, and Edward VII 1901-1910 on right.

Two swagger sticks with improper Regimental Crests. On left a George V Pattern from 1910-1936, and (presumably) Edward VII 1901-1910, on right. Author’s collection

Major H.T. Cock’s revised “Hints for Young Officers” of 1931 directs that Officers in uniform, when not wearing a sword, carry a straight swagger cane without a crook or handle, and that this stick must not exceed 23 inches in length. Further restricting the use of the stick, the 1935 Regulations indicate that swagger sticks were only to be carried in Walking-Out orders of dress.

Major H.T. Cock of The RCR holding a round knob pattern swagger stick. Photo courtesy of Michael O'Leary.

Major H.T. Cock of The RCR holding a round knob pattern swagger stick. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Leary.

The most commonly found RCR swagger stick depicts the well-known RCR cap badge sized at 7/8 of an inch as the crest, mounted centrally on a white metal or silver ferrule measuring 1 ¾ inches.

Two swagger sticks of The RCR with the proper Regimental Crest. Although similar in construction, the stick on the right has a “Made in England” stamp.

Two swagger sticks of The RCR with the proper Regimental Crest. Although similar in construction, the stick on the right has a “Made in England” stamp.

The 1960 Dress Regulations of The RCR direct “Officer’s swagger sticks will be a dark Malacca cane with a silver ferrule and knob. The Regimental Crest will be mounted centrally on the top of the ball knob. When the stick is placed or carried under the left arm the ferrule will be to the front.” This change in the appearance of the stick, from a cylindrical ferrule to a ball knob changed the placement of the Regimental crest.

An early stick attributed to The RCR with a very finely detailed cypher of Queen Victoria. Photo courtesy Michael O’Leary collection.

An early stick attributed to The RCR with a very finely detailed cypher of Queen Victoria. Photo courtesy Michael O’Leary collection.

Further defined by the 1967 Regimental Standing Orders in Section 2, paragraph 202.14 – Sticks, the following details are provided:

a. All Officers will carry a swagger stick of dark Malacca cane with a silver ferrule and ball knob. Overall length will be 26 1/2 inches. The Regimental Crest will be mounted centrally on the top of the knob. When the stick is placed under the left arm the ferrule will be to the front.

b.  All Warrant Officers will carry regulation Ordnance pattern pace sticks.

c.  All Senior Non-commissioned Officers will carry a drill cane which will be sand coloured malacca. 33 inches long with a white metal ferrule and knob. Reproduction of the cap badge on the knob will be 7/8 inch in diameter. The ferrule will be 1 inch in diameter at the knob and taper to 3/4 inch at the ferrule.

d.  Junior Non-commissioned Officers carry a swagger stick of Regimental pattern which will be 26 inches in length, a dark Malacca cane with white metal ferrule and knob. The Regimental cap badge 7/8 inch in size will be embossed centrally on the side of the knob. The knob will be I 3/4 inches in length, the ferrule 3/4 inch.

e.  Sticks will not be carried on a Commanding Officer’s parade.

A 1960’s style RCR swagger stick with what appears to be a button being used as the Regimental crest. The round knob measures 1 ¼ inches in diameter, and 27 inches long. Author's collection

A 1960’s style RCR swagger stick with what appears to be a button being used as the Regimental crest. The round knob measures 1 ¼ inches in diameter, and 27 inches long. Author’s collection

With the unification of the Canadian Forces in 1968, the practice of carrying swagger sticks with any order of dress was dismissed. The RCR, however, in true Royal fashion was still known to carry Ash plant sticks from time to time well into the mid 1980’s.

A selection of sticks used by The RCR.  From left to right, an Officer’s dark Malacca, an OR/NCOs sand Malacca stick, and a Senior NCO’s drill cane as per the 1967 Regimental Standing Orders.

A selection of sticks used by The RCR. From left to right, an Officer’s dark Malacca, an OR/NCOs sand Malacca stick, and a Senior NCO’s drill cane as per the 1967 Regimental Standing Orders. Courtesy Michael Reintjes


Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank Mr. Michael O’Leary for the breadth of knowledge and research made available on his website (http://regimentalrogue.com/), which was instrumental in piecing the history of the swagger stick in use by The RCR. Appreciations are also extended to Mr. Micheal Reintjes who graciously supported this article with additional photographs from his personal collection. Service Publications’ exhaustive photo archives (MilArt photo archives) provided period photographs and text editing. A special thank you goes out to Clive Law who got me addicted to the world of militaria at an early age.

Bibliography

Regimental Standing Orders of The RCR 1935 – Appendix 2 – Uniform http://regimentalrogue.com/srsub/1935_The_RCR_Standing_Orders_12_App2_uniform.html

Regimental Standing Orders of The RCR 1960 – Chapter 2 – Dress Regulations, Section 2 Dress Accoutrements. http://regimentalrogue.com/rcrbadges/rcr-dress_regs_1960.htm

Regimental Standing Orders of The RCR 1967 – Chapter 2 – Dress Regulations, Section 1 General. http://regimentalrogue.com/rcrbadges/rcr-dress_regs_1967.htm

COCK, H.T. Kit List for Officers, 1917-18, Original held by The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum, London ON. http://regimentalrogue.tripod.com/blog/index.blog/2313836/officers-dress-first-world-war/

COCK, H.T. Hints for Young Officers, Halifax, May 1931. http://regimentalrogue.com/srsub/RCSI_hints_1931.htm

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3 Comments
  1. Hi in the top photo of 7 swagger sticks , there are 2 sticks on the right in pale wood ,could you please let me know are the crowns Victorian ? I am thinking the tops of the crowns are flat onlike the modern QE2 more rounded tops . It’s just that I have a old black cane/walking stick VRI with the same crown if its Victoria would it be rare or scarce ? Thank you for your help.
    Kind regards Gary Bennett .

    • Richard Law permalink

      Gary,

      They are more of a St Edwards pattern crown. This dates the sticks to anywhere post 1926/1927. I’d love to see pictures of your walking stick if you don’t mind sending pictures my way.

      Thanks,

      Richard

  2. Dave Santander permalink

    I have several “2nd Regiment Canadian Artillery Montreal” swagger sticks. I wonder if you could put a date to them?

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