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The 48th Highlanders and the Battle of the Garter

March 2, 2015

by Clive M. Law

The 48th Highlanders were authorized under General Order # of 1891 as the 48th Battalion (Highlanders) and took the spot vacated by the 48th Lennox and Addington Battalion when the latter were dissolved. As a highland regiment in the centre of Toronto the regiment attracted many of Toronto’s leading citizens and was, for many years, considered a wealthy regiment.

The 48th Highlanders chose a falcon over the number ‘48’ the whole encircled by a buckled belt upon which were the words ‘Dileas Gu Brath’ (Faithful Forever). The falcon’s head was taken from the family arms of the 48th’s first Commanding Officer, John Irvine Davidson. In approximately 1904 the badge was changed by adding a semi-circular banner below the falcon’s head upon which were the words ‘Highlanders’.

Original badge authorized for the 48th Battalion (Highlanders)

Original badge authorized for the 48th Battalion (Highlanders) (Black & white image). Courtesy Mark Passmore

It was with variants of this badge that the 48th went to war in 1914, having raised the 15th Battalion CEF as well as two reinforcement battalions, the 92nd and 134th Battalions CEF. All three battalions wore badges that immediately identified their link with the pre-war Militia Regiment.

Badge of the 15th Battalion, CEF. The link to the 48th Highlanders is unmistakable. Courtesy Mark Passmore

Badge of the 15th Battalion, CEF. The link to the 48th Highlanders is unmistakable. Courtesy Mark Passmore

Badge of the 92nd Battalion, CEF. This battalion was broken up for reinforcements once in England. Courtesy Mark Passmore

Badge of the 92nd Battalion, CEF. This battalion was broken up for reinforcements once in England. Courtesy Mark Passmore

Badge of the 134th Battalion, CEF. As with the 92nd Bn, the 134th was broken up and never saw active service in France. Courtesy Mark Passmore.

Badge of the 134th Battalion, CEF. As with the 92nd Bn, the 134th was broken up and never saw active service in France. Courtesy Mark Passmore.

Following the First World War, the Commanding Officer of the 48th responded to a survey being undertaken by Militia and Defence Headquarters (later National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ)) by supplying a card with all of the regiment’s badges. The purpose of this 1921 survey was to update the badge descriptions in Dress Regulations, the last comprehensive set of these dating to 1907. In the 1907 Dress Regulations the badge was described as:

A falcon’s head (compel), or, resting on a bar, beneath which is placed the numerals “48”, in Roman block, all surrounded with a circular ribbon bearing the motto Dileas Gu Brath. Silver for officers, white metal for N.C.O.s and men.

Badge adopted in 1904 but not recorded in the 1907 Dress Regulations. It was this badge that the Regiment wished to maintain after the First World War and through the argument over the 'Garter' belt. Courtesy Mark Passmore

Badge adopted in 1904 but not recorded in the 1907 Dress Regulations. It was this badge that the Regiment wished to maintain after the First World War and through the argument over the ‘Garter’ belt. Courtesy Mark Passmore

NDHQ approved the design that had been taken into use in the intervening years and published General Order 71 of 1922 which now described the badge as:

Gilt. Within a circular riband inscribed “Dileas Gu Brath” the numerals “48” above which, on a bar, is a falcon’s head: Below the numerals is a semi-circular scroll, inscribed “Highlanders”.

It is surprising that NDHQ approved this design as it was contrary to Militia Order 208 of 1906 which had already raised the issue of the improper use of the Garter and which was quoted in the March 1929 letter.

48th Highlanders badge with "Canada" scroll. Courtesy Mark Passmore

48th Highlanders badge with “Canada” scroll. Courtesy Mark Passmore

Regrettably, a number of documents are missing from the archival files but it is known that in May 1929 the Adjutant of the 48th Highlanders wrote to NDHQ (via the Military District No.2 Adjutant) that a drawing showing their badge was incorrect. The author infers that the drawing provided by NDHQ was instigated by a policy change for badges in the Canadian Militia that required all badges featuring the Belt of the Order of the Garter to be replaced. By policy, any buckled belt was seen as an infringement of this ‘honourable and ancient’ design. The use, or permission to use, was solely a Royal prerogative.

The policy saw a number of Militia regiments forced to change their badges; however, the cost of such change was to be borne by NDHQ and not on the individual regiments. It was immediately obvious that the 48th Highlanders were not pleased with the proposed change and the Adjutant drafted a letter, on 6 May 1929, complaining about the drawing, stating:

The attached drawing is not concurred in by this Regiment. […] The design submitted [by NDHQ] is not a garter but just a circle. There is no buckle nor strap; also the scroll under the falcon is not properly finished but disappears in an uncertain way underneath the circle. The falcon head also seems to lack a spirited, erect carriage…

The 48th Highlanders Adjutant referred to his letter’s letterhead which, according to the Adjutant, was the badge which the regiment wished to continue wearing. NDHQ replied that the regiment’s design ‘is incorrect’ and referred the Adjutant to Circular Letter No. 7, dated 5 March, 1929 (the original letter stating that it was ‘incorrect and improper for the ‘Garter’ to bear any inscription other than the motto of that Order.)

Little more was said until the 21 September, 1929 when Lt-Col Sinclair, DSO MC, Chairman of the Regimental Dress Committee forwarded a report to NDHQ. Copies of the report have not been located but it was not well-received at NDHQ. However, a copy of Headquarters’ reply survives. No less than the Adjutant-General himself, Major-General Panet, wrote “…the nature of the remarks […] constitutes a serious breach of discipline.”

Panet’s letter caused Lt-Col Sinclair to immediately apologise and explain that the report had not been endorsed by Lt-Col H.M. MacLaren, Commanding Officer of the 48th Highlanders and he regretted any idea of discourtesy. Lt-Col MacLaren also wrote to the District Officer Commanding, to be forwarded to NDHQ, asking that the report be returned in order that the regiment could submit a new report.

A few days later the MacLaren wrote:

This Regiment had no idea that our Badge infringed in any way on the Badge of the Garter and had no desire or intention of doing so. It was authorised officially when the Regiment was formed, has been used ever since and was worn with honour by our service battalion in France. In this way it is carved on many graves in France and Belgium and the regimental monument in Toronto, as well as on our cups, plate and equipment.

The suggested badge does not meet with the approval of the officers of the Regiment and it is with the greatest reluctance that we bring ourselves to consider any change. As this is a matter that affects all officers, both past and present, we would like to bring it to their attention, which we intend to do shortly, when a further report will be forwarded.

NDHQ was satisfied that the 48th Highlanders would now give due consideration to their future badge and agreed to a delay. However, on 10 December 1929, the 48th Highlanders submitted new arguments for the retention of their existing badge:

On carefully examining the Badge of the Order of the Garter and comparing it with the Regimental Badge, a number of differences are noted.

The Regimental Badge should be more correctly described as a Buckle, and not a Garter, as the Garter has a completes circle for its clasp, whereas the buckle of ours has only a single piece for the clasp. Moreover, the loose end of the Garter in its dependent part finishes as a tassel, as in garters, known in Highland dress as a garter knot, whereas ours has no such tassel. Further, the circle in our Badge is broken in the upper part with the Falcon’s head erased which is superimposed upon it and projects over the upper edge.

The Garter being of such antiquity that, we are sure, nothing would be allowed to be placed over it, thus upsetting its continuity.

The motto in the circle of our Buckle is a Gaellic (sic) one, fitting for a Highland Regiment.

We would therefore respectfully suggest that for these reasons our Crest is in no way an infringement on the Ancient and Honourable Order of the Garter, and that permission be granted to us to continue in the use of our present badge which has been in use for years and is engraved on our monument, silver, etc.

Headquarters was not swayed by the argument and replied that the ‘actual shape or design of the buckle used’ was immaterial and that there was ‘no doubt that the buckled band…is incorrect’. NDHQ re-iterated that, while present stocks could be used up, future supply was to conform to the amended design.

In mid-January 1930, NDHQ followed up with the 48th Highlanders who requested that as a change in the regimental title (from 48th Regiment (Highlanders) to the 48th Highlanders of Canada) was the subject of a meeting with the officers of the regiment, that their reply be held in abeyance. NDHQ agreed to the delay.

On 20 March 1930, NDHQ was asked to approve the name change but, before NDHQ agreed to this, they raised the question of badges – again. On 12 July NDHQ wrote:

National Defence Headquarters advises that before further action is taken to approve the change in title of the 48th Regiment (Highlanders) the question of the cost of new badges is to be brought to attention.

As stated in previous correspondence the cap badge of the Regiment requires modification, viz, the Garter has to be replaced by a double circle.

The cost to the Department of this alteration would be approximately $50.00

Should you desire to have new designs of badges as the result of the proposed change in designation, the cost at new dies and tools and a complete issue of badges must be borne regimentally.

In order to move forward with the new regimental designation they reluctantly agreed to the change in badge design and, consequently, General Order 99 of 1930 authorized the change. Within days NDHQ asked the 48th Highlanders what action they had taken to ‘with a view to correcting the badge’ and that, if no action had yet been taken, at what date ‘that such will be done’. The regiment replied that ‘the unit is not at the present time in a financial position to undertake the expenditure involved in furnishing dies, tools and new badges’ and that the matter be ‘left in abeyance for the time being’. This reply was to set the tone for several years to follow.

In June 1931, NDHQ asked again. The regiment again stated that they could not afford to make the change-over.

In October 1932, NDHQ asked again. The regiment pleaded poverty again.

In March 1933, NDHQ asked again. The regiment repeated their inability to pay at that time.

In April 1934, NDHQ asked again. The regiment asked for the matter to be held over, again.

In October 1934, NDHQ asked again. The regiment asked for yet another extension.

In October 1935, NDHQ asked again. The regiment repeated their request for yet another extension.

Finally, in October 1936, NDHQ draws a line in the sand and sets distinct expectations from the 48th Highlanders:

With reference to your letter of the 25th October and previous correspondence on the marginally noted subject, I am directed to forward to you the following information on this matter.

The design of the “ground” upon which the motto “DILEAS GU BRATH” is placed comes within the scope of what is deemed to be a “garter”. As the Garter motto only, is permitted by His Majesty to appear on the “garter” in any crest or badge, it is regretted that the continuance of the “garter” design on the badges worn by the unit under your command must cease.

On account of this change and also on account of the change of name of the Regiment adopted since the badge at present worn was designed, you may wish to submit for approval an entirely new design of badge. Should you wish to take this course, the cost of making the necessary dies will have to be borne regimentally.

Should you on the other hand decide to retain the present design of badge but with the motto being on a “double circle” (as authorised by G.O. 71 of 1922) in place of on the garter, the Department is prepared to pay for making the necessary dies and supply of badges. Your attention is drawn to the fact that the change of design in badges will in no way affect any present regimental property such as mess plate, drums, pipe banners and so forth.

The changes that would be necessary after the effective date of the change has been given might be summarized as follows:

All newly appointed officers to wear the new pattern badges.

The remaining officers to replace old badges with the new pattern by a date to be determined.

All other ranks to wear new pattern badges as soon as issued.

Badges placed on regimental property purchased (or in the case of drums, etc., on being repainted) after the effective date of the change to be of new pattern.

While the feelings of the unit at this change are fully understood, nevertheless you are reminded that many regiments in all branches of His Majesty’s Empire Forces have been affected in like manner in recent years.

There is no indication of a reply from the regiment and, on 9 January 1936, NDHQ followed up again, asking if the regiment intended to propose a new design or if they would accept the motto to be placed on a ‘double circle’? Incredibly, the Commanding Officer, now Lt-Col J.P. Girvan, asked for an extension until March, at which time the options would be brought forward to all of the officers of the regiment. Perhaps more incredibly, NDHQ agreed to the delay, bringing the question of a change in badge design to almost seven years.

Finally, on 3 March 1936, Lt-Col Girvan agrees to adopt the badge authorized by G.O. 71 of 1922, with the addition of the words ‘of Canada’. Girvan also committed to sending a revised drawing, which he did several weeks later.

One would expect that the situation was finally resolved and that the 48th Highlanders had bowed to the rules of heraldry. However, a parsimonious NDHQ entered the fray yet again. In April 1936, the Master-General of the Ordnance wrote to the 48th Highlanders and explained that the offer to change the badge at DND expense was based on removing the offending buckle. If the regiment wished to otherwise change the badge or add the words ‘of Canada’ then the expense was to be borne regimentally – the same position they held in 1929. Several days later, the new Commanding Officer of the 48th Highlanders, Brevet Lt-Col G.M. Alexander, agreed to accept Design No.90, as proposed by NDHQ years before.

The final post-buckle design. Notwithstanding that this badge was accepted (albeit reluctantly) by the 48th Highlanders in 193 many of the older style continued to be worn throughout the Second World War. Courtesy Mark Passmore.

The final post-buckle design. Notwithstanding that this badge was accepted (albeit reluctantly) by the 48th Highlanders in 1936 many of the older style continued to be worn throughout the Second World War. Courtesy Mark Passmore.

As if to add insult to injury, NDHQ corresponded with the regiment once again, in January 1938, about badges. In this case it was the badge shown on the regiment’s letterhead which continued to feature a buckled belt.

The offending letterhead which, in 1938 still used the buckled belt.

The offending letterhead which, in 1938 still used the buckled belt.

Although no documentation has been located, it has been stated that the 48th Highlanders were redeemed post-Second World War when it was finally agreed that the buckled belt was not a garter belt but was a traditional Scottish device. Had this decision been made in the 1920’s this article would never have been written.


Source – Library and Archives Canada, Record Group 24, File 325-009 (D219)

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One Comment
  1. As I have a few friends in Canada I am becoming more interested in the military side.

    Well done, again.

    Stuart

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