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Pith Helmets Have Arrived Thanks to Generous Donation by 2652 Britt Smith

“The new helmets will be worn on all ceremonial parades”

Article by 25366 Anna-Michelle Shewfelt

The Pillbox is perhaps one of the best known pieces of headdress at the College. However, this wasn’t always the case.

As 8057 Ross McKenzie (RMC 1970) explained, the College adopted the Universal Pattern Helmet in about 1879 in keeping with the standard of the Canadian army at that time. In 1911, when the Army changed its headdress the College opted to maintain its tradition and retained the Universal Pattern Helmet. (It should be noted that the while these helmets are commonly referred to as ‘pith helmets’ this is only technically correct; pith helmets are any helmet made from ‘pith’ cork and can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. While all Universal Pattern Helmets are indeed Pith Helmets, not all Pith Helmets are Universal Pattern Helmets.)

During the World Wars and intervening years, uniforms and headdress at the College varied depending on use of the institution as a training establishment and the requirements of the Army. At various times, several different headdresses were designated as the one to be worn for full-dress parades. In the years between the World Wars, the Universal Pattern Helmets were used by all Cadets during full-dress scarlet tunic parades. The Pillbox was reserved for less formal orders of dress (such as with the No. 4 blue tunics).

As the Helmets were no longer standard issue in the Army, the wearing of them was gradually reduced from use by all Cadets to use by only certain senior Cadets and those with specialized ceremonial positions on full-dress scarlet parades. Since the end of the Second World War, most Cadets have typically worn the Pillbox instead. (For a more detailed history of College headdresses, see here.)

Britt Smith

The predominance of the Pillbox, however, is about to change. As e-Veritas initially reported in our coverage of the Badging Parade during Reunion Weekend 2018, thanks to a very generous donation by 2652 Britt Smith and the invaluable support of the RMC Foundation, RMC and CMR St. Jean have received sufficient Universal Pattern Helmets for each Cadet to be issued one.

Brit was a spectator at a parade in downtown Kingston in 2016 and noticed that only certain Cadets were wearing Pith Helmets. As he attended the College during the interwar years when all Cadets wore them, he wished to restore this history within the College and offered to purchase a helmet for every single Cadet at both colleges.

This project was completed with the full support of senior staff at the College as well as with input from the Canadian Forces and the Heritage Project. “We did our research,” RMC Chief Warrant Officer CWO Garth Hoegi explained, “to ensure that this move would be in line with the history of the College. And it was. We then had a sample helmet put together which was shown to the Commandant who approved it.”

The helmets have now arrived and have been issued to Cadets at both RMC and CMR St-Jean. RMC received 1100 helmets while CMR received 300 for a total of 1400 helmets.

As CWO Hoegi clarified, the new helmets will be worn on all ceremonial parades, the first one of which will occur on November 11 to mark Remembrance Day. The pillbox will be worn with Scarlets on all other occasions. The remaining orders of dress at the College will not be affected.

Below: Officer Cadets receive their new Universal Pattern Helmets. (Photo Credit 28574 OCdt Sharma)

8 Comments

  • Mike Houghton

    October 29, 2018 at 10:05 am

    A huge congratulations to David Ferguson, Business Development Oficer with the RMC Foundation, for patiently seeing this contract to fruition. Well done, David.

  • Paul Crober

    October 29, 2018 at 11:53 am

    Well done to Britt Smith! The pillbox was always meant to be part of a “lesser” form of dress and in the traditional scarlet uniform. Also glad to hear some needed research has been done on this as some of the helmets lately appeared to be morphing into versions of the wider-brimmed Wolseley helmets. Nothing wrong with them (these helmets are worn in full dress by RCR and PPCLI) but the two types are not normally mixed in the same unit. Again well done to all those involved!

  • 6439 Hugh Spence

    October 29, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    Bravo Zulu to all involved in this wonderful event, which will make many both happy and proud. Since neither “pith helmet” nor “Universal Pattern Helmet” are quite appropriate, I propose that the elegant new dress topper be nicknamed “the Britt”. And might there be one for “Brucie”?

  • 3921 Roy Strickland

    October 29, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    The first postwar helmets were donated to the College by the Toronto Branch sometime in the 70s after a fundraising appeal. Those who donated were given a framed helmet badge as a thank you and I still treasure mine. Thanks to Brit Smith for completing this project.

  • Dave Wightman (3334)

    October 29, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    Here we are at the forefront once again, resurrecting headgear from 1879! Well, I suppose they are an improvement over the ridiculous Pillbox.

    “This project was completed with the full support of senior staff at the College as well as with input from the Canadian Forces and the Heritage Project. “We did our research,” RMC Chief Warrant Officer CWO Garth Hoegi explained, “to ensure that this move would be in line with the history of the College. And it was. We then had a sample helmet put together which was shown to the Commandant who approved it.”

    Wonder if anyone thought to consult the people who have to wear them?

  • Brian Patterson 8452

    October 30, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Thank you Britt! I guess given our College Numbers I might owe you “ a few beer?”…..let’s just settle on one when next we meet- Pilot House?

  • Carrie Smith Jones

    November 1, 2018 at 12:02 am

    Thank you Mr Smith for providing a legacy of tradition to the men and women of RMC and CMR St Jean.
    From a proud parent of a current RMC student.