fashionable during the early years of the 20th Century to create new
Militia regiments in the image of regiments in the British Isles. The
Canadian military, like the young nation as a whole, was still very
closely tied to Britain. The proliferation of Highland, Scottish, and
Irish regiments came from a desire for newly created units to be instantly
endowed with tradition. A Rifle Regiment was a good choice to meet such a
desire, as the strict definition of a Rifle Regiment was not limited
solely to the weapons it employed.
Rifle Regiments - both in Canada and in Britain - were not employed in the
field any differently than standard infantry regiments, but the special
distinctions they were permitted were numerous and felt themselves in all
aspects of regimental life away from the field.
Imperial/Commonwealth Rifle Regiments have traced their traditions back to
the original rifle units of the British Army (today embodied in The Royal
Green Jackets). During the American Revolutionary War, the first rifle
unit was created in the guise of the 60th Regiment of Foot. Locally
raised in North America, these soldiers had seen the drawbacks inherent in
wearing the traditional scarlet tunic of the British infantry, marching in
rigid formations and fighting with conventional European tactics. The
commanding officer of this unit (raised in 1755) clad his troops in
buckskin uniforms, as well as dark green and brown clothing with black
horn buttons used for camouflage purposes. His men were lightly
equipped, using simple drills and open formations. Rather than rigid
adherence to drills and discipline, these troops were trained in mobility,
individual marksmanship (rather than volley fire), the need to be
constantly alert, and concealment. The training paid off in actual
Lieutenant D. Lee Redman, 103rd
Note the black leather crossbelt with silver whistle. The tunic is also
peculiar to Rifle Regiments, in dark green with five rows of braid across
the front and closed with toggles rather than buttons. Cuffs and collar
would have been scarlet, and for an officer below the rank of Captain,
Austrian knots would also have appeared on the cuffs, in addition to the
two metal "pips" on the shoulder denoting a Lieutenant.
Glenbow Archives Photo NA-2362-1
In 1797, the
5th Battalion of the 60th became the first unit to adopt many of the Rifle
Regiment traditions still adhered to today; they were the first to be
armed with a rifle (rather than a musket), the first to wear the dark
green jacket, they carried no colours into battle, and they used the
buglehorn tacically to signal movements. Their drill dispensed with the
rigid style of marching used in the rest of the army.
In 1800, an experimental corps
of Riflemen was selected, armed with the Baker rifle. Modern tactics were
taught to these men, and the lessons learned from this unit eventually
equipped the Light Brigade (and later Light Division) in the Peninsular
War. At a time when military discipline was often instilled by floggings
and harsh discipline, the riflemen were being trained in modern concepts
such as individual initiative, effective use of ground, and mobility.
These ideas were truly ahead of their time; at Waterloo in 1815, for
example, many British soldiers in regular line infantry regiments would
still think it shameful to take cover from long range enemy fire.
By 1803, General Sir John Moore
was training the men of the Light Brigade (consisting of the 43rd, 52nd
and 95th Regiments of Foot). Much of what he taught is considered second
nature today, and General Moore was revolutionary for his times in
considering soldiers as human beings who could be trained in matters of
individual initiative and self-reliance. Firm discipline under General
Moore was aimed at preventing rather than punishing crime, and brutality
common to line regiments was stopped. Orders were given clearly and
explained to all soldiers rather than expecting blind obedience, and
realistic training rather than simply drills became the norm
Again, emphasis was placed on
constant alertness and readiness for action, individual marksmanship, and
use of fire and movement - covering moving soldiers with effective rifle
fire. As would happen in the Second World War and since, field drills
were practised first on the parade ground in tight ranks and then moved to
the field, where exercises in open order were directed by buglehorn and
whistle. As well, the men were trained to march easy, with an eye to
obtaining maximum speed with minimum fatigue.
During the Peninsular War
(1808-1814), the Light Brigade carried out reconnaissance duties and took
on the traditional cavalry role of covering the advance and retreat of the
infantry. The Brigade carried out these duties with success; one French
Marshal blamed a disproportionately high loss of his officers on the
accuracy of the British riflemen's fire. The British Army as a whole was
remarkable for its marksmanship, being the only army in the Napoleonic
Wars who could claim that more than half the casualties they inflicted on
the enemy were the result of small arms fire. The training, and equipment
(at this time the Baker Rifle), of rifle units emphasized this
Since the Baker Rifle of the
1800s was such a short weapon, the troops carrying them were at a
disadvantage when it came to bayonet fighting an enemy armed with
muskets. For this reason, Riflemen were armed with 27-1/2 inch bayonets
equipped with sword handles rather than the shorter triangular bayonet
that came with the infantry musket. Even after the army as a whole
adopted rifles, Rifle Regiments have referred to bayonets as "swords."
The 103rd Regiment was equipped with the standard Ross Rifle and bayonet,
but bayonet would have been referred to as a sword.
Officer's, equipped with
actual swords, carried lighter swords than line infantry officers, with a
bugle horn replacing the Royal Cypher on the hilt.
During the Peninsular War,
Wellington ordered rifle companies to form on the left of the brigade,
and it is believed this may be the origin of a Rifle Regiment's place on
the left when on parade with other units. Modern parades throughout the
20th Century usually have all units lined up in order of seniority, with
senior units on the right side of the parade.
In the 1800s, when battle
formations were still linear, the Regimental Colour was still used as a
rallying point for infantry battalions to form up on. Rifle Regiments,
however, did not fight in standard linear formations, and so Rifle
Regiments by tradition to not carry colours.
Line Infantry Regiments
emblazon their colours with Battle Honours, but since Rifle Regiments do
not have Colours, they instead display these Honours on their cap badges.
Rifle Regiments of the 1800s had no use for drums, but by 1900, regimental
bands were permitted to have them, and Battle Honours have come to be
emlazoned on these as well.
It may be noted that the
103rd Regiment did not have any Battle Honours in any event; those honours
won by the 10th, 31st and 50th Battalions were granted long after the
disbandment of the Calgary Rifles in the post-WW I reorganization of the
Militia, and those honours that were awarded went directly to the
perpetuating units of those CEF Battalions, including the Calgary
Regiment, Calgary HIghlanders, and South Alberta Regiment.
As mentioned above, drums
were not used in Rifle Regiments originally. Drums in line infantry
regiments were originally used to announce evening tattoo, or call troops
from barracks. Troops of the Light Division, however, were seldom
assembled as formed units and usually bivouacked over a wide area. Word
of mouth, the buglehorn and whistle were considered sufficient to alert
In the 20th Century, Retreat
in Rifle Regiments was still sounded by buglehorn rather than beaten by
drums (at least, in the Royal Green Jackets)
Bugle Horns, Crossbelts and Whistles
As described above, the
whistle and buglehorn came to be of great importance in tactical control
of troops. Movement in extended order was difficult to control by voice
alone, and the whistle came to be used. The whistles, carried on the
cross belts of Sergeants and Officers, were carried throughout the 20th
Century by Rifle Regiment NCOs and Officers. In ceremonial dress (which
many 103rd Officers and NCOs owned), a cross belt with whistle on the
front was worn (the whistle was secured by a chain, which was held in the
mouth of a silver lion's head attached to the upper portion of the cross
belt.) The rear of the cross belt was a cartridge pouch. In service
dress, whistles were also sometimes worn on the officer's Sam Browne
equipment, which was blackened rather than the normal brown leather worn
by all other officers.
The buglehorn, known in Rifle
Regiments simply as a "horn", were used by the buglers of rifle platoons
and companies, and the calls were used in the same way as bugle calls in
line infantry units. By the modern era, these were not used tactically in
the field but only for ceremonial. In a rifle regiment, these calls were
also referred to as "horns."
The drill of rifle regiments
was very different of line infantry regiments, and this carried on
throughout the 20th Century. While Guards Drill was not used by the
Canadian Army until 1916 (and continued throughout the 20th Century in
modified and evolving form), there was still a degree of rigidity to it.
Rifle Regiment drill, on the
other hand, recognized the original respect for the individual soldier and
his individuality. Long pauses, exaggerated movements, stamping of feet,
and aggressive handling of weapons common to line regiment drill seemed
out of character for Riflemen, who prized their weapons, and were used to
operating quietly when in the field.
The slope arms movement
(dispensed with in the Canadian Army with the adoption of the FN Rifle)
was never used by Rifle Regiments as it was seen as unnecessary, fatigue
inducing, and served to make a man conspicuous. Rifle Regiments instead
carry arms "at the trail." Sloping Arms was originally done by pike
armed soldiers, and adopted by musket armed troops to keep the muzzle of
the weapon pointed in a safe direction when on the march.
Rifle Regiments never use the
command 'attention'is, and Riflemen always "Stand Easy" to avoid fatigue.
They use the special drill command "Look To Your Front" (or
alternately, "Stand To Your Front") On this precautionary command,
Riflemen come to the At Ease position, and when the executive of the
command is given (usually Platoon, Guard, Company, Battalion, or the name
of the unit, as appropriate), they would come to Attention. Drill was
done in this way to instill into all the need to be alert at all times.
Swords were rarely fixed in action by rifle regiment because the
flash of their blades could give the bearers away and because it lessened
the accuracy of the rifle; for that reason Rifle Regiments in the 20th
Century also did not fix swords on ceremonial occasions.
The traditional role of
reconnaissance or as security troops required soldiers to march fast, and
occasionally at the double time. This was carried on in the 20th Century
by the Rifle Regiment's pace on parade of 140 paces per minute (line
infantry march at 120 and Highland units at 112) For ceremonial march
pasts, Rifle Regiments actually march in both quick and double time
(actually 180 beats per minute).
Carrying rifles at the trail
has been alluded to above; while marching is done with the weapon at the
trail, when the troops are halted on ceremonial parades, the rifles are
automatically returned to the Order Arms position without a command being
given, again stressing the respect given to individual soldiers by not
making them wait for drill commands while holding heavy weapons in
The rifle was also carried in
the Carry (or "Cradle") position when on sentry duty, which leaves the
rifle ready for instant use, unlike the Slope Arms used by line infantry.
There has also been a March At Ease position, with the weapon slung over
the right shoulder, muzzle down to protect it from rain.
Rank and Uniforms
The position of Lance
Corporal did not exist in the British Rifle Brigade, and any man paid as a
Lance Corporal wore two stripes and was referred to as Corporal. Rifle
Brigade NCOs also wore rank badges on one arm only, so they could not be
easily seen by the enemy.
The old Rifle Regiments had a
noteworthy informality; the 60th Regiment and the Rifle Brigade did not
use the word "sir" on parade except when addressing the Commanding
Officer, and in the mess Christian names were used for officers of all
rank; in fact, badges of rank in these units was not even worn on mess
Rifle Regiments were among
the first British troops to adopt camouflage methods, using green jackets
and black buttons to blend in with their surroundings. The tradition
continued in Rifle Regiments in the 20th Century by using black buttons
(all of the same size so that missing buttons could easily be replaced,
rather than line infantry uniforms with different size buttons on pockets,
epaulettes, and tunic fronts) and badges (the 103rd Calgary Rifles were no
exception to this). Rank badges were also in black. Many of these
uniform traditions carried over to the new khaki Service Dress uniforms
adopted by the Canadian Army in 1903. All leather equipment was also to
be in black for Rifle Regiments, including shoes, belts, Sam Browne belts,