History of the Canadian System
The Canadian battle honour system draws on the rich heritage of the British forces. British battle honours originated with the army, which granted its first honour in 1695 and subsequently recognized honours as early as 1513 to the Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms. Some British regiments named battle honours for service in Canada, such as Louisburg 1758 and Niagara. Prior to Confederation, British authorities awarded all battle honours. After Confederation, the Canadian Militia decided on and awarded its own honours. A battle honour is a public commemoration of a battle or campaign, the memory of which will be a constant source of pride for the unit involved. Originally, honours were never given for a defeat, an inconclusive action or a withdrawal, but exception is now made in those few cases when such an action is felt to reflect honourably upon the units involved, such as Dieppe and Hong Kong.
Other Honourary Distinctions
One infantry battalion, the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, has a unique distinction. This battalion received the Distinguished Unit Citation from the President of the United States to recognize its stand near Kapyong, Korea, in April 1951. Equating to a battle honour, the Citation is represented by a streamer four feet in length and two and three-quarter inches in width, bearing the name of the action, attached to the pike of the regimental Colour. The use of this streamer in accordance with American practice was authorized by King George VI. Although battle honours are awarded on a regimental basis, and the whole of the PPCLI carries Kapyong on its colours, the distinction of bearing this streamer belongs to 2 PPCLI alone, and is carried on the battalion’s regimental colour.
Other honourary distinctions, principally emblazoned badges, are carried by individual regiments on their colours. Two special honourary distinctions should be noted. The shoulder badges of The Calgary Highlanders and The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's) include oak leaves to commemorate the action of perpetuated battalions which were the first Canadian troops to attack in the First World War during an operation when the Germans first used poison gas on the Western Front in Kitcheners Wood, an oak forest, in April 1915.
Qualification for a Battle Honour
A Canadian Battle Honours Committee determines which Canadian regiments can claim appropriate battle honours. Each regiment in turn determines which of its battle honours are to be emblazoned on its colours or regimental appointments. To qualify for a battle honour, a unit must have been actively committed against enemy ground troops for the operation; must have been committed in the locality and within the time limits described for the honour; normally the headquarters and fifty percent of the sub-units must have been present; and/or companies operating independently and actively committed in a recognized battle may claim the award of a battle honour provided that fifty percent of the sub-unit was engaged. In this instance the regiment could claim only one award covering any one period of time.
All honours won by one component of a regiment belong to the regiment as a whole. Reserve regiments which carry a battalion designation for a regular regiment as a secondary title only, such as The Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4th Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry), are separate regiments and display only their own battle honours.
When regiments amalgamate, the new unit inherits the honours of both predecessors. On rare occasions, amalgamated regiments separate and revert to their original form. In such a case, each component regains its own honours.
Display Specification and Location
Battle honours are recorded and emblazoned in the official language used by each regiment. When a list of battle honours is drawn up, they are listed in descending chronological order of the engagements. When displayed on colours or other appointment, they are placed on scrolls in two columns in their order of precedence, commencing at the top left scroll as seen from the front and alternating from left to right downwards. If the number of battle honours requires it, they may be displayed in four, rather than two columns, the order of precedence being across each of the four columns, commencing at the top left scroll as seen from the front.
On bass drum shells, the battle honours are displayed beneath other markings. On side and tenor drums, and on kettle drum banners, the battle honours are displayed on either side of other markings.
Battle honours are displayed on colours or regimental appointments. Originally, all honours could be displayed, but the number won in the lengthy campaigns of the First World War led to limits on the numbers which can now be emblazoned. These limits, which prevent overcrowding, are:
- Prior to the First World War - no limit;
- First World War - maximum of ten;
- Second World War - maximum of ten;
- Korea - maximum of two.
- Conditions of Award of Battle Honours for The Great War 1914-1919
- Second World War Battle Honours
- 33-1 Battle Honours - United Nations Operations - Korea 1950-1953
- Canadian Battle Honours and Honorary Distinctions (1999)
- Oak Leaf Shoulder Badges
Ducimus: The Regiments of the Canadian Infantry, compiled by Maj Michael Mitchell, CD (Director of Infantry, Mobile Command Headquarters)