CLOTH SHOULDER TITLES
of the SECOND WORLD WAR
Bill Alexander and Raymond Gilbert
This article is intended as a primer for
collecting Second World War (SWW) Canadian cloth shoulder insignia.
As with all specialized collecting areas there are controversies,
but this paper will focus on cloth shoulder title insignia, with
comments on formation insignia as relevant. The cloth shoulder title
would evolve during the war years, to become 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.
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 titles used by the Canadian Army between
1939 and 1945:
and khaki drill embroidered slip-ons
Embroidered melton wool titles
Printed cotton titles, also known as canvas titles
Description of the Types of Titles:
Worsted slip-ons were black thread embroidered on either a worsted
woven wool material or on a khaki drill material. The title was a
trapezoid shape with a thin cotton backing with two straps sewn on
to slide over the shoulder strap. These titles were designed for
easy installation and removal. The abbreviated unit name was
embroidered on the slip-on. There were some variations of slip-ons
patterns, either unofficially made in Canada, or procured in Great
Britain. Worsted Canadian made slip-ons were issued starting early
in 1940. With the adoption of coloured shoulder titles, in late
1940, the active army discontinued the wearing of slip-ons. 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. Toronto
Scottish. Raymond Gilbert.
Reverse of Canadian pattern worsted
slip-on. Attachment tapes made of cotton. Raymond Gilbert.
Khaki drill slip-on. North Nova Scotia Highlanders.
Previously attributed to British
manufacture, this pattern of slip-on has 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
Note the construction details. Bottom right, non-authorized Canadian
made worsted slip-on.
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. Felt was less durable in wear. 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 titles were
usually produced by spraying or painting the designation on the title. This
process is sometimes referred to as “flocking” or “painted”. These titles
quickly faded and fell apart in use.
Late in the war another
issue of felt titles for Canadian units appeared overseas. These were usually
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. Bill Alexander
back pattern title, South Saskatchewan Regiment. Raymond Gilbert
Reverse of a starch back title, showing
the characteristic stitching and glue or sized backing.
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 telling a melton patch from a felt one is to
examine the edges 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 substance
during the war, which meant that the fabric for making shoulder
titles and formation patches were restricted in quantity and
difficult to obtain.
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 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. Some embroidered 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
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, and no printed
titles were made for the Canadian Forestry Corps, the Canadian Women’s Army
Corps (CWAC), and the Canadian Intelligence Corps. 1 Canadian Armoured Carrier
Regiment (1 CACR) was not authorized 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
Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps printed shoulder
title. Raymond Gilbert
the approximate time during the Second World War when each type of shoulder
title was introduced and used.
Regiment/Corps Cloth Insignia
|Worsted & Khaki Drill Slip-ons
|Embroidered Coloured Melton (overseas)
|Embroidered Coloured Melton in Canada
Orange represents the period that Insignia had official Army approval
||Blue represents the period where the Army
used up old stock or units bought new embroidered Insignia as private
purchase or on an interim basis
||Chequered orange represents the period of
official approval for complex imposed formation signs. The plain orange
represents the period of official approval for plain formation patches.
||Used by the Reserve Army
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.
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
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.
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
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, Canadian unit starch-backs felt titles
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
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.
- Most British made cloth insignia have the
silk stitching on an oblique angle
- Canadian embroidery machines made a
- 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.
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
- Serif lettering is an indication of SWW
British made embroidered title. Note
oblique pattern to the stitching. Raymond Gilbert
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- If the item in question is rare, it may be wise to approach a
professional conservationist for preservation advice.
World War insignia is a fascinating area of militaria collecting. Establishing
the proper issue of insignia for the 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.
The information in this article is derived
from the documentation held in Library and Archives Canada, Record Group 24,
Various Volumes and Files