Welsh Guards, presented Operation SHADER medals to The Prince of Wales’s Company CREDIT MOD.jpg
Dozens of new cap badges with King Charles' cypher have been unveiled by the military (Picture: MOD).
King Charles III coronation

Military cap badges: All you need to know about them and why they are changing

Welsh Guards, presented Operation SHADER medals to The Prince of Wales’s Company CREDIT MOD.jpg
Dozens of new cap badges with King Charles' cypher have been unveiled by the military (Picture: MOD).

Cap badges are also known by some regiments as a cypher, motto or cap star, and they are worn on berets and other forms of military headdress.

But what are they? Why do they matter? Where are they worn? And why are cap badge designs changing?

The wearing of cap badges and emblems is a way of identifying someone's rank or status, military achievements and which regiment or service a person belongs to.

On berets, officers typically wear embroidered cap badges, and all other ranks wear metal or brass badges – notoriously harder to keep clean and historically could have earned you an unpleasant stay with your regimental police if it was deemed insufficiently clean and shiny.

There are exceptions, such as the Welsh Guards, where all personnel, regardless of rank, wear a cloth cap badge.

1st Battalion Welsh Guards, seen here on parade in Windsor, celebrating St David’s Day 2021 CREDIT MOD.jpg
A drummer from 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, seen here on parade wearing a cloth cap badge (Picture: MOD).

Cap badges have been around for hundreds of years, and they are constantly changing as new monarchs reign and regiments or units amalgamate. The design and wearing of each cap badge has its own history and story.

Why are cap badges changing?

The latest designs announced will be worn for the first time by military personnel taking part in the King's Coronation.

The design of the badges reflects the cypher and the Tudor Crown, which appears in the King's cypher.

The Royal cypher is a monogram-style design used by the reigning monarch. The King's cypher features the letter 'C' intertwined with the letter 'R' for Rex (Latin for King), with 'III' within the 'R' and the Tudor Crown sitting above. 

Watch: The Queen's House at the Tower of London was rebranded following Her Majesty's death.

Where are cap badges worn?

The British Army has a 117-page document, detailing how, when they are worn, why they are worn and by whom. It's called Army Dress Regulations, Part 9 Badges, Headdress and Embellishments and there are similar policy documents for the Navy and RAF.

The Army regulations say:

"Method of wearing. Regimental cap badges are worn by all regiments and corps as follows:

a. Berets. Worn to the front about 2cm above the band. The cap badge and beret should be offset on the head so that the badge is positioned towards the left eye.

b. Bonnets (Kilmarnock, Balmoral and Tam O'Shanter). Worn on the left side slightly forward of the left ear and about 3.6cm above the band.

c. Caubeen. Worn offset on the head with the cap badge towards the left eye except London Irish who wear the caubeen reversed with the badge towards the right eye.

d. Forage and Service Dress Caps. Worn in the centre of the band at the front.

e. Hats felt. Worn in the front or at the side."

The British Army's Tri-Service Ceremonial policy and plans lead, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret'd) Kestrel Simson said: "The cap badge goes to the very heart of what the Army is about.

"The last thing a soldier or officer does when they leave their accommodation or quarter is put on their beret and on that beret is the cap badge. It identifies the soldier as belonging to one of the Army's 74 regiments or corps.

"A bit like a football fan's scarf, it identifies who you are and what you are. When you have lots of different corps and regiments together you will see people gravitate towards their own cap badge." he added.

 Lieutenant Colonel Andy Dow Royal Marines addresses personnel at the start of Exercise Green Dagger CREDIT MOD.jpg
Royal Marine Commandos wearing berets and cap badges (Picture: MOD).

RAF units do not have differing cap badges like Army regiments. Airmen and women wear a single design, with only slight differences being between the cap badges worn by officers, warrant officers and other ranks. This is very similar to how sailors and officers of the Royal Navy adopted the wearing of cap badges.

The Royal Marines Corps Crest comprises six elements: The Lion and Crown, Gibraltar, The Globe, The Laurels, Fouled Anchor and the words Per Mare Per Terram.

The Globe: Presented by King George IV in 1827 in place of the 109 battle honours which the marines have received.

The Laurels: Granted for gallantry displayed by the marines in the capture of Belles Isle in 1761.

Changes throughout the military are expected to be gradual, rather than immediate, as a Royal Air Force spokesperson says that "existing uniform stocks that feature Queen Elizabeth II's cypher will continue to be used for a period of several years".

Charles III's reign also heralds a time of change for the companies that supply the Armed Forces with anything that bears his cypher – from cap badges and flags to belts, medals, and swords.

These changes will also affect the militaries of Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Jamaica.

Watch: Behind the scenes with Godfather of the sword.

Little-known facts about military cap badges

When deployed on exercise or operational tours, some regiments replace metallic cap badges with a blackened or painted matte version of their cap badges, as shiny brass cap badges can attract unwanted attention from the enemy on the battlefield.

The latest addition to the British Army's 74 separate regiments or corps to be unveiled was for the newly formed Ranger Regiment in 2021.

Across the Armed Forces, plastic-coloured discs are sometimes worn behind cap badges to denote recruits, or those undergoing training.

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