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The Full Dress Uniform of the Corps of Guides

January 22, 2015

By Casey Anderson

The Corps of Guides, the predecessor to the Intelligence Branch of the Canadian Armed Forces, existed as a mounted corps of the Canadian Non-Permanent Active Militia from 1903 until 1929.  General Order 61 of 1903 stipulated that each of the 12 Militia Districts across the young country would have a District Intelligence Officer (DIO).  Part of a DIO`s duties included the command of the Guides, which were attached to the Headquarters of each Militia District.  The Guides` role was a mix of what would today be recognized as the military intelligence staff function, as well as field intelligence work.

The Red River (1869) and North-West (1885) Rebellions had shown that when the military mobilized from across the country, its effectiveness was directly proportional to its ability to get into the fight as quickly as possible, with good tactical intelligence.  At the turn of the 20th Century, the threat of an American invasion was not as farcical as it seems today, and so there was a bona fide need for the type of skills expected of the Corps of Guides. To meet these perceived threats, the Guides were directly responsible for the intimate knowledge of the terrain in their district, specifically; the location and quality of routes, water features and how they could be crossed, key personalities (and where the loyalties of those people lay), and any other information which might be exploited for a military purpose.  When the Canadian militia deployed, the Guides were to be the forward reconnaissance screen of the force, literally to guide the force (which may not be familiar with its area of operations) into position the most efficient way possible.

Captain Tweedale, Corps of Guides. Courtesy Bryan Gagne

Captain Tweedale, Corps of Guides. Courtesy Bryan Gagne

However, the purpose of this article is not to relate the operational history of the Guides, but instead to highlight their exquisite and highly distinctive Full Dress uniform.  With General Order 61 of 1903 establishing the Corps of Guides, there was now a requirement for the corps to have a complete set of uniforms.  General Order 60 of 1904 was an amendment to the 1903 Dress Regulations which authorized the Guides corps-specific variations for their Service Dress with further amendments to the 1903 Dress Regulations clarifying certain points on Full Dress and eventually authorizing a Mess Dress pattern uniform.  What was perhaps most remarkable about any of the many amendments to the 1903 dress instructions (which included 128 other corps and regiments) was the uniform authorized for the Corps of Guides.

Officer’s Jacket, Corps of Guides, Canadian War Museum Collection

Officer’s Jacket, Corps of Guides, Canadian War Museum Collection

Several factors influenced the uniform eventually selected as the Full Dress uniform of the Corps of Guides.  Foremost was that while military fashion at the turn of the 20th Century across the British Empire had been heavily influenced by the reign of Queen Victoria, with the sophistication of Full Dress uniforms reaching their zenith.  Full Dress uniforms offered corps and regiments the chance to display their very best in an age when one`s dress at state events was directly related to one`s status.  While cavalry regiments were the most infamous for the primacy they placed upon the intricacies of their dress, other corps and services were by no means exempt from adopting extravagant uniforms.  Quite simply, it was part and parcel of soldiering at the time.  The Full Dress uniform selected by the Corps of Guides represented a peculiar mixing of the greatest excesses of the Victorian-era with the more practical uniforms that had begun to be in Canada adopted since the Second Boer War (1899-1902).

New South Wales Lancers, Full Dress, 1895

New South Wales Lancers, Full Dress, 1895

Queen’s Own Corps of Guides, Full Dress, 1903

Queen’s Own Corps of Guides, Full Dress, 1903

The uniform was of khaki serge wool, with scarlet facings with a plastron front.  While khaki wool selected as the primary fabric with scarlet facingswas irregular in the British Empire,it was not unique, even for Full Dress.  Both the Queen’s Own Corps of Guides (India, 1846) and the New South Wales Lancers (Australia, 1885) had worn khaki uniforms with scarlet facings since 1846 and 1895 respectively.  Peculiarly, the Guides opted not to emulate the uniform pattern of their sister corps in India, but instead the “Uhlan” style of the New South Wales Lancers (which they adopted in 1895), simply replacing the headdress worn with the uniform.  The Uhlan cut of jacket was extremely fashionable, and was nearly universal across the lancer and yeomanry regiments of the British Empire at this time.  Its adoption by a non-cavalry corps speaks greatly to how the Guides perceived themselves, and their role in battle.

The Guides’ Full Dress jacket was relatively ornate.  It had two rows of 30-ligne corps-pattern buttons worn in front, with seven in each row and with two additional buttons securing top of the plastron.  Two additional 30-ligne buttons were worn under the jacket’s girdle.   A three pointed flap at the back of each skirt was piped scarlet, andhad three30-ligne buttons on each flap.  In all, the jacket required 28 buttons.  The back seams and hind arm seams were piped scarlet, as was the front of the jacket skirt.  The cuffs were peaked and trimmed with one row of ½ inch gold braid.  The collar was edged all round with ½ inch gold braid.  The amendments to the 1903 Dress Regulations never clarified specific variations by rank for the Corps of Guides Full Dress – likely because it was expected that only officers of the corps would purchase it.  In the New South Wales Lancers rank was differentiated by badges, but also in that the cuffs of the jacket were unbraided for the Other Ranks, and instead of shoulder boards, a simple scarlet epaulette was worn.

Button, Corps of Guides Pattern

Button, Corps of Guides Pattern

The jacket was topped with a crossbelt and cartridge pouch in brown leather and plain metal fittings.  The belt was worn from the left shoulder to the right hip, with the hat badge of the Corps of Guides centered on the cartridge pouch.

Crossbelt and Cartridge Pouch, Corps of Guides Pattern (desperately needing some polish), Courtesy

Crossbelt and Cartridge Pouch, Corps of Guides Pattern (desperately needing some polish), Courtesy Bryan Gagne

Girdle, Loop Fastener Detail, Courtesy Facebook

Girdle, Loop Fastener Detail, Courtesy Bryan Gagne

Girdle, Courtesy Facebook

Girdle, Courtesy Bryan Gagne

Additionally, a girdle and aiguillette were also worn.  These were once again both items which were nearly universal across the lancer regiments of the British Empire during this time period.  These can be seen in the two prints by Robert Marion.

The trousers and breeches of the Corps of Guides were made of the same khaki material as the jacket, and had a scarlet stripe on the outside of the leg, 1 ¾ inches in width.  Breeches are shown in wear in this second print produced by Robert Marion.  The uniform is shown worn with trousers in the earlier print by Marion.  It is fair to deduce that breeches were worn in Full Dress when the wearer expected to be mounted, and that trousers would have been worn otherwise.  The decision to wear breeches or trousers also influenced the type of footwear.  In breeches riding boots would have been worn, whereas in trousers Wellington boots would have been worn.

Corps of Guides, by Robert Marion  N.B.The 1897 pattern infantry sword and scabbard depicted by Marion are technically incorrect.  The Guides were only authorized 1908/1912 pattern cavalry swords, and even in full dress their scabbards were to be of brown leather.

Corps of Guides, by Robert Marion
N.B.The 1897 pattern infantry sword and scabbard depicted by Marion are technically incorrect. The Guides were only authorized 1908/1912 pattern cavalry swords, and even in full dress their scabbards were to be of brown leather.

It should be noted that because the Corps of Guides was spread over 12 Militia Districts and that these bespoke uniforms were supplied by individuals and their tailors over a 26 year period, uniform samples often vary substantially in terms of the materials used to produce them.  The most common variations are differences in colour and the material weight and may have been caused by anything from the preferences of the man purchasing the uniform, to the materials available to a tailor in a given region of Canada.

The headdress worn with the Full Dress by the Guides was the Canadian Universal Pattern Helmet with a gilt spike and a gilt curb chain.  The Canadian helmet was nearly identical to the British Foreign Service Helmet of the late 19th Century. The Guides were authorized the wear of a six fold puggaree ofmuslin/khaki, with the two centre folds in scarlet in the same colouras the jacket plastron.  All ranks in would have worn the cap badge of the Corps of Guides centered on the helmet’s puggaree.

Corps of Guides Helmet, Canadian Universal Pattern

Corps of Guides Helmet, Canadian Universal Pattern

In 1911 the Wolesley pattern helmet replaced the Uiversal pattern. The Corps of Guides were allowed to continue using the distinctive pugaree. JVT Collection

In 1911 the Wolesley pattern helmet replaced the Uiversal pattern. The Corps of Guides were allowed to continue using the distinctive pugaree. JVT Collection

The Corps of Guides were authorized a silver cap badge for wear on the puggaree with the Full Dress uniform; however, the author has been unable to find a physical badge or even a copy of an image of the badge that would have been worn on the helmet. It is possible that these were never made due to the very small size of the corps and the even more limited number of personnel requiring Full Dress cap badges. It is equally possible that only a very few were ever made, and that these have simply fallen out of circulation as the even the Service Dress hat badge depicted below is quite rare. All pugaree badges noted to date have been of gilt finish with a silver device.

Left, Other Ranks' Corps of Guides service dress hat badge, marked P.W. Ellis and Co 1914, Author’s Collection Right, Officer's service dress cap badge.

Left, Other Ranks’ Corps of Guides service dress hat badge, marked P.W. Ellis and Co 1914, Author’s Collection
Right, Officer’s service dress cap badge.

As a mounted corps, the Corps of Guides had to factor in the items their horses would wear as well.  Appendix V of the 1907 Dress Regulations stipulated the type of the “horse furniture” authorized as the Universal Pattern (1902).  The 1907 Dress Regulations stipulated that alternate saddle patterns were viable, so long as they were common throughout a unit.  All tack was to be in brown leather, less the “tie down” [the white rope] as depicted in the image below.

Officer and Horse, Corps of Guides, Courtesy Facebook

Captain Tweedale and his mount, Corps of Guides, Courtesy Bryan Gagne

In case of inclement weather, a cape of khaki serge was authorized for the Corps of Guides.  It was of mid-thigh length, and was lined in scarlet.  The front of the cape was fastened with five 30-ligne buttons.  The cape would likely have been further fastened with a gilt (clasp and chain) lion’s head closure (not depicted below) as this style of cape closure was common at the turn of the 20th Century.

Cape, Corps of Guides, Canadian War Museum Collection

Cape, Corps of Guides, Canadian War Museum Collection

The Corps of Guides was a unique corps within the Non-Permanent Active Militia.  They fulfilled a critical function within the structure of the army.  Their efforts formed the underpinnings of military intelligence in Canada.  While their highly specialized role in intimately knowing the human and physical terrain of the Canadian wilderness proved to be immaterial to the outcome of the First World War, the Guides transferred wholesale into the other arms at Camp Valcartier (notably the Canadian Divisional Cyclist Companies).  The work of the Divisional Cyclist Companies was an essential component of the Canadian Corps’ Hundred Days Offensive in 1918, during which the Canadian Cyclists took heavy losses.  For that reason alone, the Guides (who formed the Cyclists) should never be discounted.  After the war, the Guides quietly resumed their service to Canada once more, and remained prepared to perform a domestic role which was thankfully never required of them. They should be remembered as a proud corps; one which deliberately adopted the uniform, customs, and arguably the even spirit of the lancer.

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8 Comments
  1. A fine article on a unit that I was not previously familiar with. My main interest being British.

    Stuart

  2. Great article and great for my research thank you

  3. Outstanding addition to the very limited information available on the Corps of Guides, and greatly appreciated by the Intelligence Branch historians. HLCol Harold A. Skaarup

  4. Interesting that the opening photo shows a Rifles/Light Infantry officer and Scottish uniforms in the background.

    Stuart

  5. Love it , and I would like to know much more about the rank of the Canadian Cavalry pls want to bring back the Mounted Canadian Cadets . Joel Bernier Equestrian Marshal

  6. Brian Luscombe permalink

    We have an Officer’s Corps of Guides tunic in the 32 Signal Regiment Officer’s Mess at Fort York Armoury in Toronto.

    • The only other Corps of Guides uniforms I am aware of include one in the Base Borden Military Museum in Ontario, and one in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, New Brunswick. Any chance you can share a photo of the one at Fort York?

  7. There is also one in a private collection in BC as well as one in a private collection in Ottawa. Still very scarce though.

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