The Origin of the Green Beret

By Captain Derek Oakley MBE

In the summer of 1942, No. I Commando, first formed in the summer of 1940, were stationed in Ayrshire, Scotland. They had recently taken part in a raid in the Le Touquet area of France,
near Boulogne. There were six Troops in all, billetted in private houses between Irvine and Kilwinning. One day the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Will Glendenning of the Welch Regiment, as was his wont, was conducting a “tour d’horizon’ of the Commandos future employment with his Second-in-Command, Major Tom Trevor, also from the Welch Regiment, and his Adjutant, Captain B G B “Puggiell Pugh of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The question of a common head-dress was raised.

The problem arose from the fact that no less than 79 different regiments and corps of the British Army were represented in the Commando and that each was wearing the head-dress peculiar to his parent unit. Thus a motley collection of caps, tam-o-shanters, bonnets, forage caps, caps “fore and aft”, berets, peaked KD caps, etc., appeared on the Commando parades, the forest being a veritable RSM’s nightmare!

This problem, of course, ran through all other Commando units at the time, but some, Nos 2 and 9 Commandos in particular, had resolved it by adopting as a common head-dress the cap TOS (tamo- shanter). For a variety of reasons, one being that No. 1 Commando was predominantly welsh in character, a head-dress with a Scottish flavour was not considered appropriate or desirable! It was therefore decided that a beret was a better answer as it was difficult to wear improperly, was light and easily disposed of in a pocket if necessary.

As to colour, the two already in service, Black was worn by the Royal Tank Regiment and Red (maroon) by the Parachute Regiment and so had to be avoided. Luckily a range of ideal colours was to hand in the shoulder insignia of No. I Commando, a salamander going through fire - the salamander being green and the flames yellow (gold) and red (crimson). This insignia was originally designed by the Richmond Herald at the College of Arms.It did not take a genius to decide that, of the three colour choice, green was far and away the first and obvious choice. And so it was to be.

The type, style and colour having been settled, “Puggiell Pugh was detailed to investigate how and where it could be produced. Luckily there was a factory close by at Ardrossan specialising in the manufacture of Scottish bonnets, etc. A visit there solicited the information that they also had a WD (War Department) contract to make black berets for the RTR. Samples of these were produced; an Officers’ pattern and an other Ranks’ pattern, the only difference being that the headband of the former was of silk and the latter of leather! Pugh recalls that the original sample was of a “particularly nauseating design, the crown being the ideal green but it was surmounted by a red bobble with red and white dicing round the band”. As a result of negotiations two sample designs were produced for the Co’s inspection, and were approved with instructions to get some actual green berets made. Within a fortnight the firm had completed the order to every one’s satisfaction.

The next phase of the “operation” was the Cos decision to seek the approval of the Commander of the Special Service Brigade, Brigadier Bob Laycock, for No. I Commando to take into use the green beret. By return of post, preceded by a phone call presumably, Bob Laycock said that for some time he had been considering a common head-dress for the whole brigade and he felt, subject to No. 1 Commando’s agreement, that the green beret -8 would be ideal. Naturally agreement was forthcoming. As a gesture, the Brigadier decreed that as stocks became available, No. 1 Commando would be issued with them first. And so it was that the green beret was taken into use by No. I Commando prior to them embarking for Operation Torch, the landing in North Africa in November 1942,

As far as the Royal Marines were concerned it is claimed that 41 (RM) Commando was the first to wear the beret. Lieutenant Colonel B J D “Bertiell Lumsden was visiting SS Brigade’s HQ and saw one of the first green berets; and taking an immediate liking to it, he was allowed to take one away with him. He decided to put his full dress collar badge into it in place of a normal cap badge, a custom adopted only by the officers of 41(RM) Commando. This beret is on display in the Royal Marines Museum, along with the Commando fighting knife.