CANADA Flashes
by David Freeman Lt .Cdr (Ret'd)
Used with permission from the author

From the earliest days of the Canadian Naval Service, officers and ratings wore the same uniforms as the Royal Navy (RN), complete with symbols showing ranks and trades as well as cap badges.  The only difference in the Canadian uniforms was the title "H.M.C.S." in the cap ribbons worn by personnel "dressed as seamen" and the buttons on various uniforms.  This situation was still in effect at the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. My short article traces the origins of the CANADA flash or badge, still worn today on the shoulder of our naval uniforms.

Late in November 1940, Naval Service Headquarters (HQ) issued Canadian Naval Order (CNO) 1097, which stated in part that "information has been received that some Canadian Naval ratings serving overseas have sewn a badge with the word "Canada" on their left sleeves, similar to the Army badges. No such badge is authorized and the practice is to be checked."

The CANADA flash, so familiar to most readers, first shows up as an unauthorized accoutrement worn by seamen serving overseas sometime in the summer or early fall of 1940. The question arises as to which personnel or what vessel was the focus of this order?  Appendix 8 in Macpherson's Ship's of Canada's Naval Forces 1981, lists the following vessels serving overseas in mid 1940:

1. FRASER, RESTIGOUCHE, ST LAURENT and SKEENA joined the RN's Western Approaches Command (WAC) in June 1940.
2. ASSINIBOINE, OTTAWA and SAGUENAY were working out of Bermuda in September 1940.
3. MARGAREE started working for WAC in October 1940.

The Town class destroyers did not appear in WAC until January 1941. HM Ships WINDFLOWER and HEPATICA, were the first two corvettes to arrive in the UK. Although they had Canadian crews, these vessels had been commissioned as RN ships but they did not arrive in Britain until January 1941. Other Canadian corvettes, named for towns, did not enter service until November 1940 at the earliest.

The limited evidence, therefore, seems to point to the crew of a River Class destroyer. All eight ships had regular force, RCN crews and with their background and training, it seems unlikely that anyone from these ship's companies would be the first to put up a CANADA flash.  But is there any one else at whom a finger can be pointed?

Other possible culprits would be RCNR or RCNVR crew members of an armed yacht from Sydney Force going ashore in St. John's, NF, e.g. HUSKY, LYNX or REINDEER; or ELK while stationed at Bermuda.   Evidence, however, is lacking and the author would welcome any additional information on this subject.

Only 18 months later, in May 1942, Naval Service HQ altered naval policy. Naval Order 2087 canceled the November 1940 order and stated that ratings "may" wear CANADA badges when serving afloat in other than harbour craft; or when serving outside Canada, either afloat or ashore. Harbour craft are so titled because in the course of their normal duties, they do not go outside the harbour to which they belong.  The intent of this order seems to permit Canadian ratings to be recognized as such - if they so desire - when serving in warships that may visit foreign ports or proceed overseas.

This order also stated that the lettering for the flash was to be red, 3/8 inch high and on a navy blue background.  Further, the badge was to be worn on both shoulders, half an inch down from the seam, on jumpers, jackets and greatcoats.  No mention is made of the badges being curved and no source is given to obtain such badges.  For ratings, the order is permissive in nature.

In paragraph 5, however, the order reads: "Officers, regardless of where serving, are not permitted to wear 'Canada' badges."   This is most interesting.  Naval Service HQ is giving permission for ratings to wear such flashes if they wish and consequently identify themselves as Canadian but officers, even when serving overseas, are not to wear the same badge. Readers should recall that this period, a great number of Canadian naval officers, mainly RCNVR, were serving on loan to the Royal Navy in MTBs and as radar officers in capital ships.

Six weeks later, on 11 July, CNO 2169 canceled the order noted above. This new regulation repeated all the information contained earlier with a few additions:  "4. (b).  Badges may be worn on Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 dress and the greatcoat."

On 29 August 1942, CNO 2262 was issued that covered personnel serving with the RN on Combined Operations:   Officers and ratings "may" wear a shoulder title "Royal Canadian Navy" and if so, CANADA badges were not to be worn. Such badges are to be curved and consist of 3/8 inch high, white letters on a navy blue background.  While not specific, this order seems to refer to the wearing of such a badge only on the battledress tunic.  This order is still permissive and is the first to mention the curved nature of the shoulder flash.

In late September 1943, Naval Order 3083 states that CANADA badges are to be worn by officers and ratings serving outside Canada and by all WRCNS personnel regardless of where they are serving.  This is the first instance where the wearing of CANADA badges becomes mandatory and it applies to all personnel.

This order also changed the colours of the writing on such badges.  Gold lettering on navy blue background "will" be worn on: officers blue and khaki uniforms; all WRCNS officers uniforms; and Number 1 dress worn by male and female ratings.  Red letters will be worn on ratings blue uniforms.  Blue on white background will be worn on ratings white uniforms.  Again, no source is given but one can assume that 'slops' will now hold some stock.

Barely three months later, on 1 Jan 1944, Naval Service HQ issued CNO 3285. For the first time, a drawing in the order shows the curved nature of the CANADA badge.  This type of flash is for male personnel only; WRCNS personnel are to have the word CANADA written in a straight line.

A clarification is given regarding WRCNS ratings: they are to wear red letters on navy blue background on all winter uniforms except Number 1 Dress, which by the previous order, would be gold. Further, blue letters on a navy blue background are authorized for the summer uniforms of all WRCNS personnel.

The last order on CANADA flashes is CNO 3640, issued late in May 1944.  This regulation amends the previous one and WRCNS now have blue on navy blue badges for officers' winter and summer uniforms and summer uniforms of ratings. The supply system must have been scrambling to keep up with these changes, not to mention the WRCNS having to take down and put up different coloured flashes.

There the matter stood until February 1946.  With the untimely death of Vice Admiral Jones, Chief of the Naval Staff, V Adm Reid took over.  Rear Admiral Harold T. Grant was then Chief of Naval Administration and Supply.  At a Naval Board meeting late in February, which Reid did not attend, the three members present - Grant, De Wolfe and Miles - voted to remove CANADA flashes from the uniforms.  The green maple leaf painted on the ship's funnel disappeared shortly thereafter.

In October 1949, The Mainguy Report noted several "General Causes Contributing to Breakdown of Discipline" for three incidents that had occurred earlier in the year. Cause number 22 was entitled "Absence of Canadian Identification in Navy".  This section stated in part that while officers were satisfied with their uniforms and ".the lack of Canadian identification thereon, the men were vehement in their demands that they be identified as Canadians."

Further, the Report's recommendation Number 26 dealt with "Canadian Badges". The three commissioners felt that "Canada" or "Royal Canadian Navy" should appear as ".shoulder flashes on the uniforms of all ranks."  The CNS - Grant - did not accept this recommendation.  It took the direct intervention of the Minister of National Defence (MND), Brooke Claxton, to re-instate the badge.  In mid 1949, the Minister had suggested to CNS to return the maple leaf to the ship's funnel.

Shortly after the Mainguy Report came out, trade badges were modified to include new versions of trade symbols - and the discarding of the stars used to indicate progression within the trade - and every badge included a maple leaf above the symbol for that trade.

The CANADA flash at the shoulder and the maple leaf atop 'trade badges' on the uniform lapel of all non -commissioned personnel, remain to this day. The only minor difference is that the navy now has 'occupations' instead of trades.

© August 2007
Dave Freeman
LCdr (ret'd)


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